More than 85 countries have already endorsed a legal initiative spearheaded by Vanuatu, the Pacific island nation known both for being threatened by the highest climate risks in the world (according to the United Nations University’s World Risk Index 2021) and for the efforts of its leaders, who are calling for a full-fledged Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.
On behalf of coastal communities and the most threatened countries, a Vanuatu-led coalition plans to ask the International Court of Justice to clarify the terms under which international law can be used to strengthen climate action to protect people and the environment.
The idea will be put before the U.N. General Assembly in mid-December, and a simple majority is all that is needed to approve it under Article 96 of the U.N. Charter.
The International Court of Justice has already made itself available for an advisory opinion. Of course, this wouldn’t be binding in any jurisdiction, but it could form the basis of future climate negotiations, clarifying what financial obligations countries have on account of climate change and that climate decisions are a human rights issue.
“We are convinced that if we are to have clarity on existing legal obligations to prevent harm and better understand the legal consequences of enabling that climate harm, states would do a much better job of preventing, avoiding and addressing it,” said Vanuatu Climate Adaptation Minister Ralph Regenvanu.
Nikenike Vurobaravu, President of Vanuatu, addressing the COP27 delegates, said: “More than three decades have passed since we began this process to stabilize greenhouse gasses to prevent dangerous climate change. Clearly something is not working as emissions increase, climate finance remains wholly inadequate, the 1.5 degree limit will soon be crossed, and the resulting climate injustice is suffered daily across the planet.”
Calling for a positive vote at the upcoming General Assembly, the president recalled that the request comes from “our young people,” who are “demanding climate justice and intergenerational equity.”
The idea of an appeal to the International Court came from a group of Pacific islander law students. Approved by the Community of Caribbean Countries, the idea made its way from the Pacific to the United Nations in New York and to COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh.
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