Vanuatu’s push for the international court of justice to protect vulnerable nations from climate change has received the backing of 1,500 civil society organisations from more than 130 countries, as it heads toward a crucial vote at the UN General Assembly later this year.
Vanuatu in 2021 Announced its intention To seek an advisory opinion from the international court of justice regarding the rights of future and present generations to be protected against climate change.
If it succeeds, the ICJ’s advisory opinion – although non-binding – carries legal weight and moral authority which experts say could help shape international law. It could also have an impact on domestic and regional courts and tribunals addressing climate change issues.
Vanuatu wants to gain support for its motion in advance of the UN General Assembly later this yea. It must get at least 97 votes at the UN General Assembly to have the matter referred to ICJ.
The alliance was announced Friday by more than 1,500 civil societies organisations (CSOs), from around the world, including the leading climate groups from the Pacific: Climate Action Network International, Greenpeace Australia Pacific and Oxfam in Pacific.
An independent observer of Vanuatu’s campaign said the alliance could put pressure on other nations to support Vanuatu’s initiative.
“It throws the weight of these CSOs behind the initiative, which will put pressure on other states to support the initiative. There have been similar proposals before, which have been driven by other Pacific countries, like Palau in 2011, which have been derailed by pressure from rich countries, such as the United States,” said Fleur Ramsay, a Pacific islander lawyer specialising in climate and environmental law with the Environmental Defenders Office.
Vanuatu has hired a Pacific law firm Blue Ocean Law to represent them in the campaign for the advisory opinion. They also retained external counsel to help with the development and implementation of the legal strategy. This included lawyers from the UK and Canada, India, Switzerland, Greece, India and Switzerland.
The Pacific Director of 350.org, Joseph Sikulu, said that the alliance was an extension to the important advocacy Pacific island countries have done on climate change over many years.
“The Pacific has already shown that governments and civil society can work together to achieve impactful change; the 1.5 degree benchmark being ingrained into the Paris Agreement is a testament to that. Through this alliance we hope to continue to weave together advocacy at all levels to build momentum behind the Vanuatu Government’s push for this Advisory Opinion.”
Vanuatu is a country most affected by climate change. It has a combination climate risks including rising sea levels and temperatures, as well extreme weather events like cyclones storm surges, flooding, droughts, and landslides.
It is also a leader in the fight against climate change among the Pacific nations. Vanuatu has been vocal in its support for limiting global warming to 1.5C. To prepare for the potential effects of rising tides or storm surges, Vanuatu launched an online data modeling tool. They are also testing crossbreeding crop varieties to identify climate-resilient crops, including taro. Vanuatu ratified in 2016 the Paris Agreement and is one of 43 countries on the Climate Vulnerable Forum.
In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2021, Vanuatu prime minister Bob Loughman said: “The dire consequences of climate change can no longer be ignored, and the science linking climate change to past and present emissions of greenhouse gases is now beyond question. Climate change is driving sea level rise, desertification, disease redistribution, floods, unprecedented ‘heat domes’, cyclones, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events.”