Pacific youth lead campaign to support Vanuatu’s bid to get ICJ clarification


By Makereta Komai, PACNEWS Editor in Sharm El Sheikh 

Pacific youth movements led by the Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change have thrown their support behind the government of Vanuatu as it takes up the fight to get an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on obligations of States under international law to protect the rights of present and future generations against climate change.

They were present at COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh this week to advocate and lobby for support from their peers around the world, as the countdown begins for the United Nations General Assembly vote in September next year.

Belyndar Rikimani of Solomon Islands, a member of the Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change made a rally call to action to young people all over the world to rise up and be counted.

“We are calling on young people across the Pacific and around the world to lobby their governments to support Vanuatu and Vote Yes at the UN General Assembly. We want to ensure that we are singing the same song globally, Rikimani told the side event organised to brief COP27 delegates.

“Young people are pushing for political will from their governments. While we have the power to push for change, we lack the political will. We are asking government to give us a seat at the table and to hear us out.

Rikimani is optimistic there is enough global support from governments and civil society organisations to cause the ICJ to hear Vanuatu’s submission.

As of May this year, more than 1,500 civil society organisations have expressed their support for Vanuatu’s proposal.

Director General for Environment, Esline Garaebiti commended the university law students for their advocacy and awareness campaign supporting Vanuatu’s request to ICJ for an advisory proposal.

“We are living in unprecedented times in and we are living and seeing the devastating impacts of climate change. We’ve had two category five cyclones five years apart, destroying US$600 million in losses.

“The Advisory Opinion is timely for us as it will clarify some issues around States obligations under international law to protect the rights of present and future generations against the adverse effects of climate change, said Garaebiti.

She also announced the questions for ICJ will be launched at a side event here at COP27 on Friday.

The formal release of the question will trigger the next phase of campaigns and advocacy in preparation for the September 2023 vote at the United Nations General Assembly.

Last month, the Government of Vanuatu revealed a list of 15 core countries backing its bid for an advisory opinion. In addition, the government has received endorsement from Leaders of the Caribbean (CARICOM), the Pacific (PIF) and the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS).

A simple majority of vote at the UN General Assembly will send the issue of climate change legal obligations for consideration by the world’s highest court.

The climate change Resolution to be introduced at the UN General Assembly poses a straightforward question to the International Court of Justice on climate justice and intergenerational equity.

“We are asking the ICJ to clarify the legal consequences, based on existing international treaties and principles, for significantly harming the climate system – particularly in Small Island and Developing States and other developing nations which are already experiencing devastating climate impacts,” Bakoa Kaltongga, Vanuatu’s special envoy for climate change.

The UN’s General Assembly is the most representative international body and can, with a simple majority vote of just half the world’s nations, request the UN’s International Court of Justice to clarify international legal matters of global importance.

“Although not all States may be interested in clarifying how international treaties and principles can be applied to climate change action, for the world’s most vulnerable, this clarification including human rights and intergenerational equity considerations is long overdue,” Kaltongga said.

“Whilst Vanuatu has introduced the resolution, we are representing every citizen of every country. No one is immune to the effects of climate change, but neighbours in the Pacific, Africa and the Caribbean are suffering the most from it.

“We have committed to fully implementing the Paris Agreement, and we have contributed the least to carbon emissions but continue to see fundamental human rights violated as oceans rise, our land disappears and cyclones become more powerful and more deadly. The world must come together as one to respect existing international legal obligations and slow global warming,” said Kaltongga.