International Court of Justice opinion on climate crisis will not be binding on states
More than 100 countries (105 out of 193 UN members) are now supporting Vanuatu’s proposal to make states more easily prosecuted for failing to act against the climate crisis. One idea, to ask the International Court of Justice for an opinion on countries’ obligations in the fight against climate change, which is coming to the UN General Assembly but started from a task of the students of environmental law at the University of the South Pacific of the small island state.
What is it about? Vanuatu calls on the International Court to clarify some legal aspects regarding the obligations of each country to implement appropriate and timely climate policies. The wording of the question is rich and detailed and seeks to cover many crucial aspects of the fight against climate change, including climate justice and the impact on ecosystems.
What obligations for the state against the climate crisis?
This is the text of the questions, in the definitive wording presented to the UN on 20 February this year:
(1) What are the obligations of States under international law to ensure the protection of the climate system and other parts of the environment from anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases for States and for present and future generations;
(2) What are the legal consequences under these obligations for States where they, by their acts and omissions, have caused significant harm to the climate system and other parts of the environment, with respect to:
(a) States, including, in particular, small island developing States, which due to their geographical circumstances and level of development, are injured or specially affected by or are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change?
(b) Peoples and individuals of the present and future generations affected by the adverse effects of climate change?”
An important passage but, it must be remembered, as much more symbolic than anything else. The opinions of the International Court of Justice are not binding. Whatever the court’s response, no country will have to adapt. But the vote in the general assembly and the process of supporting the request serves to increase the political pressure on the large recidivist polluters.
Countries that do not support the petition include the United States, China, India, Russia, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Japan, and South Korea. It also lacks support from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, host countries of COP27 and the future COP28. Italy, on the other hand, is as much in favour as most of the EU.