"Is it supposed to become a virtual country?" asked Rainer Lagoni, Professor of Maritime Law at the University of Hamburg. There is no legal definition for a country entirely without land...UPDATE (17 September):
A "gradual withdrawal" of the "ocean refugees" via a special certification scheme as proposed by the German federal government is hardly feasible. The term climate refugee is itself full of inconsistencies. Under the Geneva Convention, climate damage is not a basis for humanitarian asylum. The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights doesn't guarantee a basic right to a sound environment...
"Of course it doesn't carry the same weight as Darfur," says Lagoni. The apocalyptic campaign has nevertheless been highly effective -- and has also revealed some of the blind spots in international law. Roda Verheyen, a lawyer from Hamburg, focused on the damage caused by climate change and international law for her doctorate back in 2003. At the time, she met with plenty of skepticism -- but since then her work has attracted growing interest. For a long time legal academics had categorically rejected the notion that a country like Tuvalu could claim damages for its devastated environment -- after all it would be impossible to name the guilty party.
But in the meantime a growing number of lawyers have come to consider such claims legitimate. For example, the State of California's case against major automakers is an indication of the future of climate change in jurisprudence -- even though that case only deals with national, as opposed to international, law.
More on Tuvalu, here at Japan Focus.