Vanuatu says fossil fuel companies could be sued over climate change

By agency reporter
November 24, 2018

Vanuatu is considering suing fossil fuel companies that continue to contribute to climate change, the nation’s foreign minister has warned, in what could be a world first legal action by a climate vulnerable country.

On 22 November 2018, during the Climate Vulnerable Forum’s Virtual Summit, Vanuatu’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ralph Regenvanu, said his country is exploring legal actions against the world’s most polluting fossil fuel corporations and countries facilitating the industry for their roles in creating catastrophic climate change.

“The injustice of climate change is that the impacts are felt first and hardest by those with the least responsibility for its causes. Vanuatu is on the front lines of climate change and yet we have benefited least from the exploitation of fossil fuels that has caused it,” Mr Regenvanu said.

“I am therefore today putting the fossil fuel industry, and the states that sponsor it, on notice that the climate loss and damages ravaging Vanuatu will not go unchallenged. My government is now exploring all avenues to utilise the judicial system in various jurisdictions – including under international law – to shift the costs of climate protection back onto the fossil fuel companies, the financial institutions and the governments that actively and knowingly created this existential threat to Vanuatu.”

Individuals from Peru and the Philippines and US cities, counties, and two states are seeking to hold oil, gas and coal companies accountable over climate change. This announcement from Vanuatu marks the first time that a nation state has declared it is considering legal redress from the corporations, profiting most from the climate crisis while actively undermining climate science and solutions, and countries actively supporting fossil fuel production. Vanuatu may soon be adding to the growing number of  climate lawsuits that present serious financial and reputational risks to the fossil fuel industry.

Vanuatu is home to 260,000 residents and is constituted of 82 volcanic islands dispersed across 1,280km of sea. Many of its islands sit less than a metre above sea level.

“Like most of the Pacific, Vanuatu is on the frontlines of climate change. That was tragically demonstrated by Cyclone Pam, which killed 15 people in Vanuatu, left 75,000 homeless and caused more than $590 million in damage”, Greenpeace Australia Pacific Head of Pacific Net, Kelvin Anthony, said.

“That’s equivalent to 64 per cent of the Vanuatu’s GDP. The Pacific is not holding back anymore. Our small economies are are at risk due to climate-fuelled disasters and slow onset impacts and that has put us in a vulnerable position globally. We will take every step we can to up the pressure on the high polluting economies. It is our right to survival.”

“In a world full of political short-sightedness and cowardice, we need clear political and moral leadership. Small Island States are leading through actions towards a zero carbon world by 2050”, said Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director at Greenpeace International.

“Vanuatu’s brave announcement today is part of a global wave of legal action against oil, gas, and coal companies and laggard governments. Communities impacted by climate change are standing up and demanding that those responsible finally be held to account. We stand in solidarity with these communities all around the world.”

* Greenpeace International https://www.greenpeace.org/international/

[Ekk/6]

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