A resolution enlisting the UN’s top court in tackling climate change, spearheaded by Vanuatu, would be a “historic” step if adopted, its climate minister said Thursday, as he laid out the existential threat facing his Pacific island nation.
The UN General Assembly is set to consider the measure — which asks the International Court of Justice to lay out nations’ obligations for protecting Earth’s climate, and the legal consequences they face if they don’t — on March 29.
Vanuatu, whose future is threatened by rising sea levels, has won the backing of more than 100 countries for the resolution.
“It’s going to be a moment of great hope, I think, for many of us, who are facing the devastation caused by climate change,” Ralph Regenvanu said during a virtual press conference.
An opinion by the ICJ would not be binding, but would help establish important legal context.
While many countries have made pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Agreement, those are not binding, and the resolution enlists other tools, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“Let me be very clear that the advisory Proceedings of the ICJ we are asking for in this resolution are not contentious, and our question is not directed at any state, nor intended to blame, shame or otherwise seek judgment,” Regenvanu said.
Vanuatu, an archipelago nation home to 320,000 people, was lashed by violent cyclones earlier this month, with torrential rains and fierce winds uprooting trees, tearing roofs from buildings and flooding roads.
The government of Vanuatu started lobbying for the climate resolution in 2021, after a campaign initiated by a group of students from a university in Fiji in 2019.
One of them was Cynthia Houniuhi, who is now part of the Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change group.
“It’s still overwhelming, the support that has been shown to us, but it’s very encouraging to see the youth voices being heard by our leaders and those supporting this initiative,” Houniuhi said.
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