The United Nations General Assembly is set to vote on Wednesday regarding a resolution that would seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the climate obligations of states to combat climate change.
If the resolution passes, it will request that the ICJ define the legal obligations of countries to address climate change, which could potentially push nations to take more effective measures and clarify international law on the issue.
The resolution was initiated by the Republic of Vanuatu after a four-year campaign that was spearheaded by Pacific island law students who desired to see climate justice delivered through the international legal system.
The resolution has garnered support from 121 co-sponsors, and it is expected to pass with a simple majority if no other country raises objections. However, Vanuatu diplomats are still seeking support from China and the U.S. to avoid objections from the two biggest greenhouse gas-emitting countries.
The potential impact of an ICJ advisory opinion on climate obligations
While an advisory opinion by the ICJ would not be legally binding, it could have significant implications for future climate negotiations and domestic policies. It could clarify the financial obligations that countries have with regard to climate change, which could help them revise and improve their national climate plans submitted to the Paris Agreement. Additionally, the opinion could support the development of stronger domestic policies and legislation.
Vanuatu Climate Minister Ralph Regenvanu stated that a consensus among the UN General Assembly would provide an indication of the importance that the world places on this issue and the weight that an ICJ opinion would carry. The resolution was inspired by the Pacific island nation’s experience with climate-fueled cyclones, including two category-four cyclones this month that forced 10% of the population into evacuation centers.
The U.S.’s stance on the resolution
In response to a Reuters query, U.S. Special Envoy on Climate Change John Kerry expressed support for addressing the issue of loss and damage caused by climate change. However, he also stated that Vanuatu had “jumped ahead” by attempting to bring the issue to the UN court. Kerry explained that the U.S. had concerns about the language and the way the resolution was written and that the key question was whether an ICJ opinion would produce something constructive and fair.
The need for an ICJ opinion on climate obligations
Climate-related litigation ramps up worldwide, with over 2,000 cases brought to court. Thus an ICJ advisory opinion on the legal obligations of countries regarding climate change is increasingly necessary.
ClientEarth lawyer Sam Hunter-Jones emphasized the importance of such an opinion as countries and individuals continue to seek legal remedies for climate-related damage and losses.
IJC opinion could have significant implications for future climate obligations
The upcoming UN General Assembly vote on the resolution seeking an advisory opinion from the ICJ on climate obligations could have significant implications for future climate negotiations and domestic policies.
While it remains to be seen whether the resolution will pass, an ICJ opinion could clarify the legal obligations that countries have with regard to climate change. It will help them to revise and improve their national climate plans and develop stronger domestic policies and legislation.
Regardless of the outcome of the vote, the growing number of climate-related legal cases around the world highlights the need for greater legal clarity on this critical issue.