Climate resolution calling for protection of Pacific islands to be adopted by the UN
The UN General Assembly on is expected on 29 March to adopt a climate resolution pushed by Vanuatu. It calls for a top court to outline legal obligations related to climate breakdown, which the resolution describes as an “unprecedented challenge of civilizational proportions.”
Vanuatu and Pacific islander youth have pushed for such a resolution for years. The measure asks the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to lay out nations’ obligations for protecting Earth’s climate, and the legal consequences they face if they don’t. Vanuatu’s prime minister, Ishmael Kalsakau, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that “global warming is en route to Armageddon” and world leaders must “react very quickly, urgently” to address climate breakdown.
The UN is widely expected to adopt the resolution, with more than half of its member states co-sponsoring it. Kalsaku said its adoption will leave him “elated”.
Climate resolutions undermined by the US
Not everything is clear-cut, however. The position of China and the US, two of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gasses, are unknown factors. During negotiations on the Paris Climate Agreement, US diplomats secured the addition of an undermining clause. It specified that the Agreement’s text “does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation”.
This is a critical issue in the debate over paying for the ‘loss and damage’ costs borne by the Global South. Notably, the UN resolution asks the ICJ to clarify “legal consequences” for states that:
have caused significant harm to the climate system and other parts of the environment.
Specifically, it asks the court to weigh the Global North‘s obligations to “small island developing States” that are “particularly vulnerable” to climate breakdown. It also calls for obligations to future generations.
ICJ opinions are not binding. However, they carry significant legal and moral weight, and are often taken into account by national courts. This led Nikki Reisch, of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), to say the resolution is a:
test moment for states around the world to really show where they stand
‘An opportunity to do something bigger than ourselves’
Harjeet Singh, of Climate Action Network, told AFP that the future ruling “will serve as an important accountability tool”. Singh added that the resolution’s apparent success as:
potentially one of the biggest climate diplomacy and multilateral successes in the recent past.
The government of Vanuatu started lobbying for the climate resolution in 2021. It followed a campaign initiated by a group of students from a university in Fiji in 2019. As a result, the UN’s adoption of the resolution will mark an emotional day for the Pacific youth. Cynthia Houniuhi, president of the group Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change, said:
This was an opportunity to do something bigger than ourselves, bigger than our fears, something important for our future
Featured image via Humans of Vanuatu/Wikimedia Commons, licenced under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Licence, resized to 770*403
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
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