UN to vote whether world court to define climate obligations
The United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday will vote whether to ask the world's top court to define the obligations of states to combat climate change, a legal opinion that could drive countries to take stronger measures and clarify international law.
The resolution seeking an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice has made it to the UN General Assembly after a four-year campaign led by the Republic of Vanuatu. It was inspired by Pacific island law students that want the international legal system to deliver climate justice.
An advisory opinion by the court, judicial organ of the UN, would not be binding in any jurisdiction, but could underpin future climate negotiations by clarifying financial obligations countries have on climate change, helping states revise and enhance national climate plans submitted to the Paris Agreement, as well as strengthening domestic policies and legislation.
Vanuatu Climate Minister Ralph Regenvanu said the resolution has 121 country co-sponsors, allowing it to pass with the simple majority if no other country raises objections. As of Tuesday, Vanuatu diplomats were still trying to win support from China and the US, or at least to convince the two biggest greenhouse gas emitting countries not to raise objections.
"The very first thing we hope to see [on Wednesday] is that there is a consensus because that will provide an indication to the court of the importance the world puts on this question and the opinion it will be giving," Regenvanu told Reuters.
The south Pacific island nation has been a victim of climate-fueled cyclones, including two category-four cyclones this month that has left 10% of its population still in evacuation centers.
This month, US Special Envoy on Climate Change, John Kerry, said in response to a Reuters query the US supported efforts to address the issue of loss and damage, the costs incurred from climate-fueled weather extremes or impacts, but that Vanuatu "jumped ahead" by trying to bring the question to the UN court.
"The United States has concerns with the language and the way it’s been written," Kerry said. "It’s not a question of support, not support; it’s a question of whether or ... if it is taken up by the court - that it produces something that’s going to be constructive and fair."
ClientEarth lawyer Sam Hunter-Jones said that as climate-related litigation ramps up worldwide - with over 2,000 taken up in courts - an ICJ opinion is needed.
If the UN passes the resolution, it could take the ICJ around 18 months to issue an advisory opinion, with countries submitting input over the next year.