A few meters of sea level rise could wipe most of Vanuatu’s islands in the Pacific Ocean off the map. This is not just a fantasy, because they have already lost territories in recent years, and their size will only increase as a result of climate change. In recent weeks, islanders have been able to feel climate change on their skin, as devastating hurricanes hit the region one after another, accompanied by floods, windstorms, torrential rains, and evacuations of residents.
Vanuatu emits a very small amount of the greenhouse gases responsible for climate change, yet it is one of the countries most at risk of warming – due to the nature of global processes, due to other countries. Where is the truth here? Who would be responsible if Vanuatu suddenly disappeared like Atlantis through no fault of their own?
The questions may seem naive, but the right answers to them can speed up the fight against climate change, and the nominal commitments made so far could actually have a serious stake. Vanuatu and more than 120 other countries lined up next to it, including Hungary, in a draft resolution Request an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice in The Hague to clarify the responsibility of governments for climate change and how international law can be applied to strengthen action against climate change.
For the International Court of Justice to deal with the issue at all, a decision on it had to be taken at the seventy-seventh session of the United Nations General Assembly. Wednesday’s vote was a formality, with more people actually backing the proposal than the number of votes required for an eligible majority. The cause has received almost unprecedented international support. The International Court of Justice now has two years to issue its advisory opinion.
The signatories grappled a lot with the text submitted, and although there were attempts to water it down, thanks to the obstinacy of the main author Jorge Vinuales, strong questions were finally put to the ICJ. I would like to make it clear that nations have obligations to each other and to the future when it comes to protecting the Earth’s climate. Another important point is that climate justice must prevail
Countries that do not fulfill their obligations must face legal consequences if they cause harm to countries that are particularly vulnerable with the negative effects of climate change.
Vinoales and his colleagues hope to lay the foundations for climate accountability in international law. “For months we have been defending the legal consequences day and night. Many countries wanted to remove it completely. But the more intense the criticism, the more it became clear to us that the question hits the right nerve.” University of Cambridge website.
Ralph Reginvanu, Vanuatu’s climate change minister, said the decision seeks to avoid blaming or shaming any country for being a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. with all this
It tells which countries are left out of the two signatories: Big exporters such as China, India, the United States or Indonesia did not rank in the majority.
Although there are agreements, such as the Paris Convention or the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which also provide for environmental issues in an international context, according to Jorge Vinuales, they are “carefully drafted to remain legally ambiguous”. The law professor believes that whether we look at the UN Charter, human rights or sea rights, countries that promote climate change are acting illegally. True, this was not said by an official body.
The ICJ’s legal opinion would not be binding, but if a text favorable to climate advocates was drawn up, it could still set a precedent.
Lawyers see it as an important tool for accountability, and believe it could be invoked in climate protection lawsuits around the world, potentially leading to countries themselves putting in place tough climate laws.
Viñuales expects the court won’t come to a big declaration that, for example, it won’t impose an obligation to compensate. But he believes that whatever decision may be made, or whatever differences of opinion some judges may have, some aspect of each of them can be a useful tool in climate litigation.
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