Alarmist publications have forecast that numerous nation-states will be put under threat of disappearing by rising sea levels related to global warming. Such a situation would imply a form of statelessness never before experienced in history. In this paper, we examine the available literature on that topic, clarify confusing concepts, and present basic geographic data allowing us to estimate the danger. We then enumerate possible policy paths to face climatic statelessness. Our conclusions are less pessimistic than the dominant narrative of disappearing states and sinking islands: the number of states under threat of submersion is small, climate science does not predict an ineluctable submersion, and adaptation policies do exist. The central thesis of the paper is that the issue of climatic statelessness should not fuel fears of apocalyptic waves of refugees but nevertheless constitutes a serious matter of concern as citizenship is a fundamental human right. Alongside the urgent need to reduce CO2 emissions, policies of prevention and mitigation could be conceived in accordance with specific local situations by combining physical protection of the land, mobility of the populations, and perhaps new conceptions of transnational citizenship.
Published in a peer-reviewed journal of the Population Council.