Vanuatu’s Foreign Minister says it would be “embarrassing” for both China and the United States if they fail to back the Pacific Island nation’s push to get the International Court of Justice to issue a ruling on climate change.

The United Nations is expected to vote later this week on the landmark resolution which would ask the ICJ to rule on the international legal obligations states have to tackle the environmental crisis.

More than 100 nations have already agreed to co-sponsor the motion, including Australia.

But several major polluters – including both China and the United States – are yet to say if they’ll throw their weight behind it at the UN.

Jotham Napat said he pressed White House Asia tsar Kurt Campbell on the issue during his visit to Port Vila last week, but the Biden administration was “reluctant to take a stand” on the vote.

He also indicated that China’s government had not yet responded to Vanuatu’s request that it back the resolution.

“We have made every attempt. I have written several letters to China through different discussions we have had simply asking if they could co-sponsor the resolution,” Napat said.

The resolution will ask UN General Assembly to seek an opinion from the International Court of Justice on the international legal obligations that countries have to act on climate change.

The ruling will not be binding, but activists hope it will provide a new mechanism for climate action by making it clear what obligations states have to protect both the climate and the environment.

Australia has thrown its weight behind the push but has argued that the Court must consider the obligations of current and future emitters – not just those historically responsible for emissions – in order to be effective.
Napat said a “good number” of nations were already backing Vanuatu’s resolution, but he hoped to reach a full consensus when the United Nations voted on it later this week.

“We are hoping that the China and the U.S will probably raise their hand to call for full (consensus) because it’s so embarrassing when you have some major players coming on board and giving their blessing” he said.

“We are hoping they do the right thing.”

He said major emitters had to acknowledge that small island states faced existential risks from climate change, back the ICJ resolution, and radically ramp up action to cut emissions.

“We are asking the U.S and China to consider his. It’s about our survival. It’s about the next generation.”

“We should not be greedy,” the Vanuatu Foreign Minister said.