A revolutionary move today as the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted a landmark resolution by consensus, calling for the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the world’s highest court, to issue an advisory opinion on climate change.
Over 130 UN member states formally registered their co-sponsorship of the resolution ahead of the UNGA vote earlier today, far exceeding the simple majority required if the resolution had been put to a vote.
The long-running campaign, first initiated by 27 law students from the University of the South Pacific in 2019, was taken up by the Vanuatu Government in 2021 and has since received a groundswell of support from governments, regional organisations and civil society.
The success of this vote provides an opportunity for the ICJ to weigh in on the climate crisis, the only principal UN organ that has yet to do so. In issuing its advisory opinion, it is hoped that the ICJ will bring to bear global human rights and environmental frameworks that will enhance efforts towards mitigating climate change and spur nations across the globe to take action, with a sharp focus on safeguarding the well-being of both current and future generations, especially those who are most vulnerable.
This victory speaks volumes of the climate leadership shown by Pacific nations and their ability to build consensus around addressing the climate crisis which is considered to be the largest threat to the livelihoods, well-being and security of Pacific people.
While this moment is merely the first step in a much longer process, it has been the most difficult. So the work is only beginning and as we now look to The Hague, we hope countries will answer the call to make submissions before the ICJ and do so in an inclusive manner.
Reactions from Pacific Civil Society, Lavetanalagi Seru, Regional Policy Coordinator, Pacific Islands Climate Action Network says: “Today’s outcome is a win for people and communities across the world that are at the frontlines of the climate crisis. The Pacific has again exemplified that despite the threats of this existential crisis, we are resolute in our efforts to effectively and urgently ratchet up climate ambition, seeking avenues to protect the rights of those most vulnerable, including future generations, and uphold the principles of intergenerational equity. The work has only just begun, and the road to The Hague requires everyone to push their Governments to make submissions that highlight the clear linkages between the climate crisis and human rights when called on by the Court. For now, we celebrate!”.
Vishal Prasad, Campaigner, Pacific Island Students Fighting Climate Change says: “The passing of the resolution today is beyond belief for a campaign that we started four years ago. It really is a story of hope and determination culminating in the successful UNGA adoption. This is a great day for climate justice as the world has come together today to call for clarity on what States’ obligations are in responding to the human rights impacts of climate change. We now look towards the next phase as the court process unfolds and we continue our journey for climate justice.”
George Koran, Coordinator, Vanuatu Climate Action Network says: “We applaud the solidarity demonstrated by UN member states in support of the Vanuatu Government and ICJAO core member countries and adopting the resolution. Our people, present and future need clarity on the obligation of states under international laws and treaties to protect their livelihoods against escalating impacts of climate change. No country is immune to climate change, it is by standing together and acting together can we be able to reduce global emissions and reduce climate risk”
Slade Ririmae, Coordinator, Solomon Island Climate Action Network says: “’We stand in solidarity with other member countries and the Vanuatu government in support of passing the ICJAO resolution. The positive outcome of UN General Assembly Hall today is a win for the people who lived across the global communities who are on the frontlines of climate breakdowns.
Richard Gokrun, Tuvalu Climate Action Network says: “We salute the unity of the UN member states in backing the ICJAO resolution. For communities at risk from climate change and living in fear of its effects, this is a success and a sign of hope”.
Joseph Sikulu, 350.org Pacific Managing Director says: ““The ability of Pacific youth to mobilise their national leaders and today win the support of UN member states is why the power of frontline communities cannot be disregarded in building the solutions to the climate crisis. 350 Pacific stands in celebration with the Vanuatu government and all those who have carried this campaign to make clear that the climate crisis is a human rights crisis. In the wake of a harrowing assessment report by the IPCC this month, this announcement is a welcome victory for climate justice. The Pacific refuses to give up hope and will employ every tool at our disposal to end the age of fossil fuels and build a safe and dignified future for our people.”
Reverend James Bhagwan, General Secretary, Pacific Conference of Churches says: “We are grateful to Vanuatu and the States that have supported this call and now await the next steps that the ICJ will now take to provide the Advisory Opinion on the lived reality we are experiencing as a result of Climate Change. We congratulate the Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change on this achievement which shows how our young people are leading the charge to protect their future and the future of all.”
Noelene Nabulivou, Executive Director, DIVA for Equality says: “In a time of such ecocide and loss and damage faced by climate frontline peoples including in the Pacific, this is a refreshing outcome, not just because the vote got through, but that it was by consensus. The hard work of the International Commission of Jurists over many months is ahead, with governments and social movements across the world providing evidence for the Advisory Opinion. Today for a moment, feminists and wider social movements recognise and celebrate an extraordinary set of work in growing global efforts for socio-economic, ecological and climate justice, for all.”
Kesaia Vasutoga, Project Manager and Capacity Building Adviser for Oxfam in the Pacific’s PACCCIL project says: “History has been created today as the world witnesses a win for climate justice and the recognition of the basic human rights of people, communities and nations on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Nation-states and communities most affected by climate change have done the least to contribute to the global crisis. The adoption of the UNGA Resolution by consensus, to support an Advisory Opinion on climate change signals that systems change is possible when we join as a global community to support our governments in leading the charge for change. Today, we stand proud and hopeful that the global legal framework, an outcome of the Resolution, will hold world leaders and polluters accountable for their part in bringing about systems change to support climate action.
Makereta Waqavonovono, Coordinator, Climate Tok says: “Climate Tok (Fiji) joins others in applauding Vanuatu, a Pacific nation, for taking the lead role and other member countries for their support in passing the ICJ AO resolution. The global community has been put on formal notice about their respective roles and obligations under international laws and treaties and the need to protect the livelihood of the more vulnerable communities living in the frontline of the climate crisis.”
Shiva Gounden, Pacific Advisor at Greenpeace Australia Pacific says: “This is the latest, and arguably most powerful demonstration of global climate leadership from those most impacted by the climate crisis. Pacific island nations suffer the most devastating impacts to their lives, livelihoods, and cultures, despite contributing the least to the climate crisis. In the face of this destruction, the hope, determination and courage of Pacific peoples shines through. These proud people know that their lands and ways of living are worth saving – and have the courage, conviction, and the plan to do so”.
PICAN is a regional alliance of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), civil society organisations (CSOs), social movements and not-for-profit organisations from the Pacific Islands region working on various aspects of climate change, disaster risk and response and sustainable development.