The call for the International Court of Justice to issue a legal opinion on the climate crisis follows a campaign led by the Pacific island of Vanuatu.
The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has passed a historic resolution asking the world’s highest court to define countries’ obligations in the fight against climate change.
The advisory opinions of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) “are of considerable importance and can have a lasting impact on the international legal order”, UN chief Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday as the resolution passed. by consensus.
“If and when given, such notice would help the General Assembly, the United Nations and Member States take the bolder and stronger climate action our world desperately needs,” António Guterres added. An advisory opinion would not be binding on any jurisdiction, but could influence future negotiations.
The resolution comes after a four-year campaign by the Republic of Vanuatu – an archipelago of around 80 islands spread over 1,300 km (807 miles) which was hit by two category 4 cyclones in three days earlier this month.
“I can now tell my children and the children of the world that world leaders are listening to their concerns,” Vanuatu Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau told Al Jazeera.
The original idea for an UNGA resolution came from law students in Vanuatu during a class project. They then suggested it to the island officials.
“We’re just thrilled the world has listened to Pacific youth and chosen to act” on the idea that “started in a Pacific classroom four years ago,” said Cynthia Houniuhi, student president of the Pacific Islands, based in the Solomon Islands. Fight against climate change.
Today is the big day ! Incredible journey to get here, incredible effort from everyone involved. Thank you to our team in the capital, the central group 🇻🇺🇦🇴🇦🇬🇧🇩🇨🇷🇫🇲🇲🇦🇲🇿🇳🇿🇩🇪🇱🇮🇵🇹🇷🇴🇼🇸🇸🇱🇸🇬🇺🇬🇻🇳, our @PSIDSnyc family and all members of the United Nations. Follow live from 10 a.m. ET. Statements on the… https://t.co/nR5cRZhkjd
— UN Vanuatu (@VanuatuUN) March 29, 2023
“A defining moment”
Vanuatu and other vulnerable countries are already grappling with the powerful impacts of a warming planet. On the eve of the vote, Vanuatu diplomats were still trying to drum up support from China and the United States – or at least convince the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases not to raise objections. .
Countries will submit their contributions over the next year. It could take around 18 months for the court to issue an advisory opinion that could clarify countries’ climate change financial obligations; help them revise and enrich the national climate plans submitted to the Paris Agreement; and strengthen national policies and legislation.
Some campaigners, however, question whether countries will truly heed the ICJ’s advice or whether they will seek to narrow the scope of the resolution, Al Jazeera’s James Bays said.
“UN insiders will tell you that the resolution was passed with all of these countries agreeing with it, but privately they don’t really [so]Bays said, reporting from UN headquarters in New York. “Nobody wants to stick their head above the parapet and be the country that opposed this resolution.”
The United States did not support the resolution.
“We believe that diplomacy – not an international judicial process – is the most effective avenue to advance global efforts to tackle the climate crisis,” a senior official in US President Joe Biden’s administration told Reuters. . “We have expressed this directly to our partners and made this clear to the UN.”
Vanuatu’s campaign to engage the ICJ in climate justice follows the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which issued a dire warning that “man-made climate change is affecting already many extreme weather and climate phenomena in all regions of the world”.
The planet’s surface temperature has increased by 1.1°C over the past century and is expected to continue to rise. The latest IPCC The report details how, if the trend continues, the surface temperature will “likely” exceed 1.5°C this century and “make it more difficult to limit warming below 2°C”.
The resulting advisory opinion could make a vital contribution to burgeoning climate-related lawsuits around the world. There are over 2,000 pending cases worldwide.
Other international courts and tribunals are also called upon to clarify and define the law relating to climate obligations, including the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.