The international community should come together to revise the Law of the Sea treaty to take climate change into account as this phenomenon becomes a growing global concern, international maritime law expert David Attard said.
The 1982 treaty, that defined nations' rights and responsibilities in their use of the world's oceans, did not address the legal repercussions of climate change.
Regulating shipping emissions and allocating liability to countries for inaction that had repercussions elsewhere were examples of how the law could tackle climate change, he explained.
Prof. Attard, who also specialises in human rights, had foreseen the climate change challenge in 1988 when his advice spurred the Maltese government to request the United Nations to take action to protect the climate.
This proposal led to the 1992 UN Convention on the Protection of Global Climate and the subsequent 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
"Today, climate change is becoming an important issue in maritime law as oceans are considered to be carbon dioxide sinks and ships are a source of environmental degradation.
"The subject is prevailing in all sectors of the global economy as research shows we're heading for an ecological disaster," he said.
Next month, delegations from over 190 countries will be attending the Copenhagen climate summit, which will attempt to draw up a global climate treaty to replace Kyoto. There is concern that no legally binding treaty will emerge from talks in Copenhagen.
It will be interesting to see if the LOS treaty is raised in Copenhagen..