The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has authorised the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), at their request, to participate in the advisory proceedings on the Obligations of States in respect of Climate Change.

Pursuant to Article 66 of its Statute, the Court has decided that the Pacific Islands Forum and AOSIS are likely to be able to furnish information on the questions submitted to the Court by the General Assembly.

The two organisations will each present a written statement on those questions, and written comments on any written statements made by States or other organisations, within the time-limits as extended by the President in her Order of 15 December 2023, namely 22 March 2024 and 24 June 2024, respectively.

The subsequent procedure has been reserved for further decision.

The UN general assembly earlier this year adopted by consensus the resolution spearheaded by Vanuatu, a Pacific island nation vulnerable to extreme climate effects, and youth activists to secure a legal opinion from the ICJ to clarify states’ obligations to tackle the climate crisis – and specify any consequences countries should face for inaction.

While the opinion from the world’s highest court will not be binding in domestic courts, establishing international legal rules can be influential on judges and governments. It also represents the first attempt to establish climate action obligations under international law, which advocates hope will strengthen climate-related litigation by helping vulnerable states and advocates hold countries accountable for their action and inaction.

The resolution emerged out of mounting frustration at the mismatch between the global community’s rhetoric and action on climate change, amid escalating losses for countries such as Vanuatu, which face an existential threat due to sea-level rise. The frustration spurned a social movement led by Vanuatu law students turned youth activists, and work on the resolution was led by Indigenous lawyers in the Pacific.

The ICJ advisory will help establish whether there is legal obligation for countries to do what they have committed to in non-binding treaties such as the 2015 Paris climate accord, and whether failure to do so can be challenged through litigation.