The UN General Assembly Wednesday adopted a landmark resolution, led by the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu, which calls on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to provide an advisory opinion on states’ obligations to address climate change. The resolution also requests the Court’s opinion on the legal consequences for states whose “acts and omissions” caused “significant harm” to the climate, particularly harm to small island nations and “people of present and future generations.” Adopted by consensus, the resolution was co-sponsored by 132 UN member states. The US and China, the two largest net producers of GHG emissions, did not expressed their support, but also did not push the measure to a vote by objecting.
UN Human Rights Chief Volker Türk commented that the advisory opinion will have “tremendous potential” to bring states’ obligations into clearer focus, as well as to provide guidance for future policy and litigation. He deemed the resolution “an important catalyst for the urgent, ambitious, and equitable climate action that is needed to stop global heating and to limit and remediate climate-induced human rights harms.”
The resolution, which Vanuatu Prime Minister Ismael Kalsakau called “a win for climate justice of epic proportions,” began as a grassroots campaign founded by 27 University of the South Pacific law students from 8 Pacific Island countries. Pacific Island nations are disproportionately vulnerable to the effects of climate change, facing rising sea levels and increasing extreme weather events. Earlier this month, Vanuatu was devastated by two Category 4 cyclones in the space of 24 hours, causing Kalsakau to declare a state of emergency across the nation’s 13 principal islands.