UN adopts resolution on climate change initiated by Vanuatu

Small island nation leads global initiative for climate justice

10 Apr 2023 by The Water Diplomat

Vanautu leads call for climate justice

The small island state of Vanautu has successfully led an initiative to clarify the legal obligations of governments with regard to the rights of present and future generations in relation to climate change. Vanautu has been faced with extreme weather events which have caused large scale damage to property and infrastructure, and for months, it has worked to request other states to co-sponsor the initiative. Vanautu’s efforts have been highly successful, with 119 states ultimately co-sponsoring the drive for a UN resolution to obtain a legal opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the legal consequences for countries which have contributed most to greenhouse gas emissions.       

On the 29th of March, the United Nations General Assembly passed a vote on the resolution which calls broadly on the ICJ to establish the obligations of states with regard to the climate crisis.  More specifically, the ICJ is requested to do two things: first, to clarify the obligations of states under international law to ensure the protection of the climate system – and other parts of the environment – from greenhouse gas emissions, both for other states and for present and future generations. Secondly, the ICJ is asked to clarify what the legal consequences are of these obligations for states which by their acts (and omissions) have caused significant harm to the climate system and caused significant harm to states affected by the climate crisis, as well as for present and future generations.

Vanuatu’s Prime Minister, Ismail Kalsakau, welcomed the vote as a big win for global climate justice, stating “Vanuatu sees today’s historic resolution as the beginning of a new era in multilateral climate cooperation, one that is more fully focused on upholding the rule of international law and an era that places human rights and inter-generational equity at the forefront of climate decision-making .. […] .. the very fact that a small Pacific island nation like Vanuatu was able to successfully spearhead such a transformative outcome speaks to the incredible support from all corners of the globe.”