Climate Change and the Island States: Reimagining the International System

Publication Type:

Journal Articles


Strategic Analysis (2021)



Climate Change, International System, Island States


Climate change, often identified as one of the biggest challenges of this century and beyond, affects the small island states of the Indian Ocean, Pacific and elsewhere in various ways. This includes the possibility of submergence or uninhabitability of island states with rising sea levels and the threat to marine life due to rising ocean temperature. Even if the islands are not completely submerged due to rising sea levels, they may become uninhabitable due to several factors like damage to the coral reef, intrusion of saltwater in the freshwater table, rising food insecurity and extreme weather events. These threats question the notions of territoriality, sovereignty and statehood of island states in a post-submergence/uninhabitability scenario, challenging the very basis of the current international system of nation-states. In this context, a few questions come to the fore: Is climate change a stressor for the international system? What are the other stressors? Can they bring about the unravelling of the current international system? If so, then in what ways could the world be reimagined?