Vanuatu’s fight for climate justice goes to the Hague
8 Mar 2023 by The Water Diplomat
105 of the 193 member states have supported Vanautu’s call to request that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) provide clarification on the obligations of states to protect the climate system and other parts of the environment the environment for present and future generations. Clarity is also sought from the ICJ on the legal consequences under these obligations for States which, by their acts and omissions, have caused significant harm to the climate system and other parts of the environment for Small Island States as well as present and future generations suffering the consequences of climate change.
Vanuatu, a small island state located in the South Pacific, has recently made headlines for obtaining permission from the International Court of Justice to seek a legal opinion on the obligations of countries to combat climate change. This is a significant step for a country that is one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and extreme weather events.
The decision by Vanuatu to seek a legal opinion on the obligations of countries to combat climate change comes at a time when the international community is struggling to make progress on this issue. The recent COP27 climate summit in Egypt has failed to produce a meaningful agreement on loss and damage, which refers to the compensation that developing countries need to address the impacts of climate change. This failure underscores the urgent need for action on this issue and the importance of legal action to hold large polluting countries accountable.
"This is a matter of life and death for our people. We cannot continue to sit back and watch as our islands disappear beneath the rising seas. We need urgent action to address the root causes of climate change and to hold those responsible accountable for their actions," said Ralph Regenvanu, Climate Change Adaptation Minister of Vanuatu.
Since its decision to seek a legal opinion, the country has received widespread support from other small island nations, environmental groups, and climate change activists. The Pacific Islands Forum, a regional intergovernmental organization, issued a statement expressing its support for Vanuatu's efforts, stating that "climate change poses an existential threat to our region, and we need urgent action to address it."
Commenting, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, said "Vanuatu's decision to seek a legal opinion from the International Court of Justice on the obligations of countries to combat climate change is a bold and important step. It is a reminder that those who contribute least to the problem are often the ones who suffer the most from its effects."
However, there are also concerns that seeking a legal opinion from the International Court of Justice may not be enough to address the urgent need for action on climate change, while stakeholders highlight some expected challenges that Vanuatu may face, including the question of jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice: It is unclear whether the court has the jurisdiction to hear a case brought by a small island state like Vanuatu against larger countries that are major contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions.
Despite these challenges, if Vanuatu is successful in obtaining a favorable legal opinion from the International Court of Justice, it could set a precedent that would benefit other countries in similar situations. It would also send a powerful message to the international community about the urgent need for action on climate change and the importance of taking responsibility for the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions. These countries include Tuvalu, Bangladesh, Kenya, Peru, Australia and The Philippines to mention just a few.