This House believes the Seychelles should buy territory and relocate due to climate change

The Seychelles are an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, northeast of Madagascar. It is one of the smallest countries in the world at only 455 km2, its population is also comparatively small at only 90,000. Many of the islands that make up the country are flat reefs, though not all – its highest point is 905m above sea level.[1] As with many other small island states around the world, particularly Maldives, Kiribati, and Tuvalu the whole country is under threat from climate change. Unlike Tuvalu and Kiribati the problem is not simply sea level rise meaning the whole country could end up underwater; unlike those island states the country does have some higher ground. Instead the problem is that the remaining land will become uninhabitable. There is some sea level rise, but the problem is as much about erosion as a result of more intense storms, and higher and stronger tides. 80 percent of the population lives on the coast but moving into the higher areas is not an option as the country would be left with few resources and almost no fresh water supply.[2]

So far no country has ceased to exist as a result of climate change. Yet it has become increasingly clear that climate change talks are not going to result in deep and fast enough cuts in emissions to prevent some sea level rise so the position of the small island states will increasingly become untenable as their islands become uninhabitable. The search is therefore on for solutions. The most obvious scenario is that these states will simple cease to exist and their people will become climate refugees. There have been some immense estimates that there could be 200 million climate refugees by 2050 – but even if this were to happen the vast majority would be internal refugees, and not members of a disappearing state.[3] Thus there may well be 20million refugees as a result of parts of Bangladesh being underwater but Bangladesh would still exist – those refugees would still have other areas of the country where they could go.[4] The citizens of the small island states would be in a different situation as the nation they are citizens of would no longer exist; instead they would probably have to be taken in by neighbours although this might prove problematic because the refugee convention does not cover victims of natural disasters.[5]

Traditionally the four elements of statehood are having a defined territory, a permanent population, an effective government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other states. Climate change threatens to damage the defined territory to the point that the second is no longer possible. This in turn is likely to jeopardise an effective government. Only the last criterion is not initially under threat.[6] So how might a state maintain these criteria when its defined territory is disappearing? The proposal would be that the Seychelles should buy, or otherwise acquire, territory from another bigger state. This state would cede some, or all, sovereignty over this territory. The territory would probably be a similar size or possibly if less economically viable slightly bigger than the current territory. Ideally the ceded territory would be islands or coastal so that the current skills of the people of the Seychelles are still relevant. Given the small size of the state it is likely uninhabited land could be found. However any current inhabitants would be allowed to remain, with the possibility that their current state might maintain sovereignty over them.

N.B. The arguments here could be used for any small state that is going to no longer exist as a result of climate change.

Allowing the current natives to remain, and for the possibility of contiguous sovereignty by two states over the same territory, opens up a lot of questions that have not been sufficiently explored here. The alternative that they be expelled, citizenship, or essentially become migrants however would make any deal much less likely to be acceptable.

[1] The World Factbook, ‘Seychelles’,, 29 January 2014,

[2] Conan, Neal, ‘Seychelles Sinks As Climate Change Advances’, NPR, 22 September 2010,

[3] Barnes, Hannah, ‘How many climate migrants will there be?’, BBC News, 2 September 2013,

[4] Karim, Masud, ‘Bangladesh faces climate refugee nightmare’, Reuters, 14 April 2008,

[5] United Nations, ‘Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees’,, 1951,, p.14

[6] McAdam, ‘’Disappearing states’, statelessness and the boundaries of international law’, UNSW Law Research Paper, 2010,,%20Jane%20McAdam.pdf, p.6


Moving is an imperative

It is clear that if the Seychelles wishes to remain as a sovereign nation it will have to relocate almost all of its population and it makes sense for this to be in one place so keeping the nation together. The way to do this is through purchasing land and sovereignty from another country that has land to spare. There is clearly little other choice and some of the small island states have already accepted this. Kiribati for example has already bought land from Fiji with the intent of using it as a last resort for its people.[1]

[1] Yu, Bobby, ‘The Sinking Nation of Kiribati: The Lonely Stand Against Statelessness And Displacement from Rising Oceans’, The Arizona Journal of Environmental Law & Policy, 11 January 2013,


Unlike the Maldives or Kiribati the Seychelles will still have a small amount of land.[1] The government could establish a permanent outpost even if it does have difficulties with water supplies. The Seychelles would therefore be able to maintain sovereignty through this outpost much as mounting bases on small islets around the world provide sovereignty without acquiring new territories elsewhere.

[1] Conan, 2010,

Small size makes for ease

The Seychelles, as with the other nations whose very existence is threatened by climate change, is small. It is twice the size of Washington D.C., so smaller than many cities. As such finding enough land to relocate the country should not be a problem. Several of the states closest to the Seychelles; Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia, and Madagascar, have plenty of land that they could give up without any inconvenience to their own state. Kenya, the smallest, is more than 1200 times bigger than Seychelles


States can get very worked up about very small pieces of land. Size appears to matter little when the issue is one of sovereignty. For that matter neither does the worth of the land or the population living on it. A great many of the world’s hot spots are over very small areas of land often with small or non-existent populations such as Gibraltar, Falklands, Senkaku, and the islands of the South China Sea. 

Shared sovereignty

If there are no countries willing to cede complete sovereignty over territory then some kind of shared sovereignty could be considered. “This conferred jurisdiction must include rights to become a citizen, migrate, work, access health care, and access social security.”[1]Additionally there would almost certainly need to be sovereignty over justice, law and order. However this would potentially leave large areas of sovereignty in the remit of the host nation; such as providing defense. The most notable compromise by both might be to maintain sovereignty over people rather than just territory.

There have been suggestions such as by Krasner that shared sovereignty should be considered, and become much more normal. And some forms of shared sovereignty have happened before such as foreign control over some tax revenues, or the status of forces agreements the USA had with Germany that restricted German ability to make war after WWII.[2] Or more obviously the members of the EU increasingly cede some sovereignty to the international entity. As the deal would be voluntary for both the Seychelles and its host country and both would potentially gain such a deal would seem feasible.

[1] Yu, 2013,

[2] Krasner, Stephen D., ‘The case for shared sovereignty’, Journal of Democracy, vol.16, No.1, January 2005,, p.77


Shared sovereignty is likely to create problems in the future. No state wants to have another state controlling some aspects of its sovereignty and any deal the Seychelles entered into would be an unequal one as the Seychelles would both be much smaller and be the state asking for help. If the host state for example maintained control over national defense what would there be to stop that country essentially mounting a takeover of the Seychelles new territory in the future?

Other nations have an obligation to help

The President of Vanuatu has noted “If such a tragedy [the disappearance of a state] should happen, then the United Nations and its members will have failed in their first and most basic duty to a Member and its innocent people, as stated in Article 1 of the Charter of the United Nations.”[1] As long ago as 1992 developed nations accepted “the responsibility that they bear in the international pursuit to sustainable development in view of the pressures their societies place on the global environment and of the technologies and financial resources they command” and that “polluter should, in principle, bear the cost of pollution”.[2] There is also a Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness in which article 10 demands that any redrawing of borders must not render a person stateless, the principle behind which would equally apply to a disappearing state.[3] The small island states are losing their countries through no fault of their own it is therefore the responsibility of other states to provide them with alternatives; be this land or the resources to purchase land.

[1] McAdam, ‘’Disappearing states’, statelessness and the boundaries of international law’, UNSW Law Research Paper, 2010,,%20Jane%20McAdam.pdf, p.4

[2] The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, ‘Rio Declaration on Environment and Development’,, 14 June 1992,

[3] United Nations, ‘Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness’,, 1961,


The suggestion that the polluter pays is in relation to the cleaning up of pollution and reduction of emissions not helping those who are affected by the consequences. Accepting an obligation to help everyone affected by climate change would mean developed nations taking on an immense burden in terms of rebuilding lost homes and livelihoods. No government would make such a commitment to any but its own citizens. 

Other states would not want to waste resources on a refugee state

The Seychelles are not a particularly rich place. Their main industries are tourism and tuna fishing accounting for 32% of employment,[1] both of which are unfortunately entirely dependent upon the territory of the islands themselves and cannot be moved. The result is that the Seychelles have little to offer those states that might consider giving up territory. The country will therefore have difficulty rebuilding its economy and would likely be a drain upon its host making countries unwilling to take on the commitment.

[1] The World Bank, ‘Seychelles Overview’, October 2013,


The cost need not be borne by the state from which they Seychelles is given land; rather it could come from the funds that have been set up to help developing nations adapt to climate change such as the Adaptation Fund and the Green Climate Fund.[1] This would mean the money would be coming from developed countries that can easily afford the costs of helping rebuild the lives of 90,000 people not the country that provides the territory.

[1] ‘Finance’,, accessed 26/2/2014,

New countries forged by those fleeing disaster

There have been very few countries that have been created in circumstances that are at all similar to that which would happen when island nations are forced to abandon their homeland. The closest parallel is Israel when Jews arrived en mass first because they were promised the land after WWI, when it is notable that they purchased the land they occupied,[1] and then after the disaster of the Holocaust. The Palestinians have not been happy about the loss of territory. Indeed there have been few examples in history of peoples’ willingly giving up land to a new arrival whether it is due to colonialism or migration. The result, especially if sovereignty is involved, is usually conflict.  

[1] Pipes, Daniel, ‘Not Stealing Palestine, but Purchasing Israel’, National Review Online, 21 June 2011,


Israel while it may be the only obvious modern example is a terrible analogy. The number of people from small island states is tiny compared to the number of Jews wishing to live in Israel/Palestine. Those from the small island state are unlikely ever to be in a position to dictate terms to those who are already living in the state so there will be cooperation not conflict.

Could retain sovereignty without acquiring new territory

While it is normal for states to have exclusive sovereign control over territory this has not always happened in the past. There have been governments in exile that have remained recognised as a result of wars or revolutions. Most notable perhaps was during world war II where there were governments in exile as a result of invasions by Germany and Japan.  For example Philippine President Quezon set up The Commonwealth government in exile in Washington D.C. which remained the recognised government by the allies and therefore much of the world.[1]

A state therefore does not have to have control over a populated territory to maintain a sovereign government and for the world to recognise it as such.[2] Having a population on the territory over which the state has sovereignty matters little; migrants don’t always change citizenship when they move to live in another country. Indeed 56.9% of Samoans live outside their own territory.[3]

[1] Jose, Ricardo, T., ‘Governments in Exile’, University of the Philippines, p.182

[2] Yu, 2013,

[3] McAdam, 2010,,%20Jane%20McAdam.pdf, p.8


While this is technically the case, and indeed the Seychelles would even maintain some territory, it would not be a viable long term option. While other countries would maintain recognition of a territory-less state for a while would they do so over the long term? The Seychelles government would meanwhile have immense problems exercising any kind of authority. How would a state with no, or very little, territory collect any taxes? Without a functioning government with revenues providing any of the services of a state to its citizens would be impossible. Meanwhile its citizens would likely be scattered and there would be a clash between any services offered by the state they are staying in and a government in exile trying to exercise control.


Barnes, Hannah, ‘How many climate migrants will there be?’, BBC News, 2 September 2013,

Conan, Neal, ‘Seychelles Sinks As Climate Change Advances’, NPR, 22 September 2010,

Jose, Ricardo, T., ‘Governments in Exile’, University of the Philippines,

Karim, Masud, ‘Bangladesh faces climate refugee nightmare’, Reuters, 14 April 2008,

Krasner, Stephen D., ‘The case for shared sovereignty’, Journal of Democracy, vol.16, No.1, January 2005,

McAdam, ‘’Disappearing states’, statelessness and the boundaries of international law’, UNSW Law Research Paper, 2010,,%20Jane%20McAdam.pdf

Pipes, Daniel, ‘Not Stealing Palestine, but Purchasing Israel’, National Review Online, 21 June 2011, ‘Finance’,, accessed 26/2/2014,

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, ‘Rio Declaration on Environment and Development’,, 14 June 1992,

United Nations, ‘Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness’,, 1961,

United Nations, ‘Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees’,, 1951,

The World Bank, ‘Seychelles Overview’, October 2013,

The World Factbook, ‘Seychelles’,, 29 January 2014,

Yu, Bobby, ‘The Sinking Nation of Kiribati: The Lonely Stand Against Statelessness And Displacement from Rising Oceans’, The Arizona Journal of Environmental Law & Policy, 11 January 2013,