The Lawfare Podcast: The Law of the Sea in the Age of Climate Change

By Jen Patja Howell
Monday, May 15, 2023, 5:01 AM

Though the threat of climate change has come sharply into focus in recent decades, humans have long endeavored to shape and reshape the natural world, carving it up and making sense of it through technological innovations. In just one example, projects of reclamation have increased Singapore’s total land area by 25 percent. The Changi airport sits on land that was once ocean. 

As Surabhi Ranganathan discusses in her recent article, “The Law of the Sea” for The Dial, this poses a unique challenge for international law. Surbahi writes, “The shifting relation between land and sea reflects the scale of human impact on the environment. This unstable relation forces us to confront the consequences of climate change, as the fixed certainties—soil, resources, infrastructure—that have for so long governed our imagination of land begin to fall apart.”

Lawfare Managing Editor Tyler McBrien sat down with Ranganathan, a Professor of International Law at the University of Cambridge, to discuss her article and what shipwrecks, fragile ports, sinking states, continental shelves, trash islands, seasteading, undersea cables, and oceanic vents can tell us about how international law must adapt to better address our uncertain climate future.