Vanuatu gets support for International Court of Justice opinion on climate change

Stephen Wright
Vanuatu gets support for International Court of Justice opinion on climate change This handout picture taken on Mar. 1, 2023 and released by Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer, French Ambassador to Vanuatu and Solomon Islands, shows a road blocked by uprooted trees after Cyclone Judy made landfall in Port Vila, Vanuatu.
Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer/AFP

The Pacific island country of Vanuatu said more than 100 nations have signed on to its bid to get the International Court of Justice to issue an opinion on the obligations of countries to combat human-driven climate change.

The country’s permanent mission to the United Nations said Thursday that the resolution, which the U.N. General Assembly could vote on this year, was sponsored by 106 nations in total. The International Court of Justice, headquartered in The Hague, is the judicial arm of the United Nations.

“Herculean team effort to arrive at this milestone,” Vanuatu’s U.N. mission said on Twitter. “Appreciate the active engagement here at the U.N. during consultations, as well as Vanuatu’s diplomatic envoys around the world, not to mention civil society and youth groups advocating for this important issue.” 

The world’s two largest polluters, the United States and China, are not among the sponsors. Nor are India and Indonesia, also significant polluters, while coal-exporting nation Australia is.

The resolution proposes that the international court issue an advisory opinion on the obligations of governments to protect the “climate system” and the environment from global warming that is driven by human activity. 

It also wants the court to offer an opinion on what legal consequences stem from those obligations, for countries that cause significant harm to the climate and environment, particularly in relation to small island states.

The opinion, if issued, would not be legally binding on governments. It could add weight to the arguments for developed nations to take more action to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and for compensation for countries worst affected by a warmer climate. 

Pacific island nations such as Vanuatu are among the countries most vulnerable to the extreme weather and sea level rise that is projected to occur this century as a result of higher average global temperatures. Low-lying atoll nations such as Tuvalu and Kiribati are particularly at risk. 

According to the official website for Vanuatu’s proposal, a majority of U.N. members–some 97 nations–would need to vote in favor of the resolution at the U.N. General Assembly for it to be referred to the international court. 

It says an advisory opinion from the court would help “gain clarity [on] how existing international laws can be applied to strengthen action on climate change.” 


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