The UN has adopted a historic resolution that will make it easier to hold polluting countries legally accountable for their failure to act on the climate crisis. The resolution calls for the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to issue an official opinion that will clarify that obligations that nations have to tackle the climate crisis, and the consequences they should face for inaction.
The Pacific islands are extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels, pollution and extreme weather events. The resolution asks that the court pays attention to the harm endured by small island states because of the activity of larger, richer countries.
It has been hailed as a historic move by a group of Pacific Island students, who were instrumental in their advocacy for the resolution. Law students from eight Pacific Island nations founded the Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change (PISFCC) in 2019, after growing frustrating by the world’s lack of action on climate change. They launched a campaign to persuade their leaders to take the resolution to the UN’s highest court. Now successful, the Prime Minister of Vanuatu Ishmael Kalsakau has declared the 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 intergenerational equity at the forefront of climate decision-making.”
The opinion from the ICJ will not have a legally binding impact but will serve as a significant reminder to urge states to recall their obligations to international legal instruments, such as the Paris Agreement, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the United Nations Covenant on the Rights of the Child.