THE UNITED NATIONS General Assembly has adopted a resolution seeking an advisory opinion on climate change and human rights from the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The decision is a milestone in a campaign launched over two years ago by the Pacific Island Students Fighting Climate Change (PISFCC), in a law school classroom in Vanuatu.

It was taken forward as a diplomatic endeavour by the Government of Vanuatu who worked alongside a core group of 18 nations to prepare the first draft of the resolution, and ultimately won the backing of over 120 countries before it was tabled in the UN on 29 March. The adoption by consensus for an advisory opinion from the ICJ is unprecedented.

An advisory opinion from the ICJ will provide clarity to States on their obligations under international law to protect their people, now and in the future, from climate impacts and their responsibility in upholding fundamental human rights. While non-binding in nature, it will add weight to efforts to hold governments accountable on their climate promises and strengthen climate negotiations in multilateral fora, and it can be cited in climate litigation.

The decision is a significant diplomatic moment for Vanuatu and Pacific Island nations who have a strong legacy in climate leadership. For instance, Vanuatu and small island developing states have long championed the need for a Loss and Damage fund – which came to fruition at COP27- and more recently led a six-nation Pacific pledge, ‘Port Vila call‘, to phase out of fossil fuels and called for a global Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“This is not a silver bullet but it can make an important contribution to climate action. The world is at a crossroads and we as the international community have the obligation to take greater action. Together we can send a loud and clear message into the future that on this very day the people of the United Nations acting through their governments decided to leave behind their differences and act together to tackle the challenge of climate change,” said H.E. Ishmael Kalsakau, Prime Minister of Vanuatu, as he introduced the draft resolution at the UN plenary hall.

Tasneem Essop, Executive Director, Climate Action Network said: “Today’s adoption by consensus in the UN of the resolution to seek an advisory opinion on climate change from the International Court of Justice is a truly historic moment in our quest for stronger accountability and actions from governments in addressing climate change. This moment has been long in the making. What started as a campaign by Pacific Island students in a law school classroom, and then taken forward by the government of Vanuatu, is now set to go to the world’s highest court.

“This is a huge diplomatic success by Vanuatu and Pacific Island nations and another powerful example of how civil society and governments can work together to achieve success, as was also demonstrated by the agreement on the Loss and Damage Fund. We look forward to supporting the efforts to get clarity and seek justice through the ICJ on the obligations of States towards their citizens in the protection from climate change, now and in the future.”

Lavetanalagi Seru, Regional Policy Coordinator of the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network said: “Today’s outcome is a win for people and communities across the world that are at the frontlines of the climate crisis. The Pacific has again exemplified that despite the threats of this existential crisis, we are resolute in our efforts to effectively and urgently ratchet up climate ambition, seeking avenues to protect the rights of those most vulnerable, including future generations, and uphold the principles of intergenerational equity. The work has only just begun, and the road to The Hague requires everyone to push their Governments to make submissions that highlight the clear linkages between the climate crisis and human rights when called on by the Court.”

Sanjay Vashist, Director of Climate Action Network South Asia said: “Today’s UNGA resolution is an important landmark in the campaign for the International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on climate change and human rights led by the Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change and the civil society of Pacific nations. An advisory opinion from the world’s highest court will cement consensus on the scientific evidence of climate change, the impetus for more ambitious action under the Paris Agreement and a roadmap for international cooperation and assistance to combat the impacts of climate change on the world’s most vulnerable nations.”

Romain Didi, Climate Governance and Human Rights Policy Expert, Climate Action Network Europe said: “Climate lawsuits are booming in Europe at the moment, and an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice could trigger even more cases, and should also carry weight and help national and European courts’ reasoning when deciding on climate change cases.”

* Source: Climate Action Network International