The Pacific Community (SPC) welcomes the advisory opinion and the role that evidence-based Pacific science has played in the ruling by the International Tribunal Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

The tribunal handed down a unanimous opinion that found states’ have a legal obligation to monitor and reduce their emissions on the marine environment that contribute to climate change.

“The highest global maritime court has today recognised the voices of the Pacific and recognised the evidence that our science and research has been showing for decades,” said SPC Director-General Dr Stuart Minchin.

“This is a responsibility, rights and ultimately a justice issue. SPC has been working to support our Pacific countries and territories for decades upon their requests to develop and use the best available Pacific-led science in the fight against the existential threat of climate change on our Blue Pacific region,” he said.

SPC was invited to present this science and evidence in an oral submission at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in September 2023 alongside Pacific and other countries. This evidence, led by SPC teams, demonstrated the proven impacts of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) emitted by humans as a serious pollutant to our marine environment.

The SPC science and technical submission highlighted critical impacts such as ocean acidification, sea level rise, and ocean warming, all of which pose an existential threat to many Pacific Island countries and create challenges to the region as a whole.

SPC presented the scientific statement to the court alongside the Republic of the Marshall Islands Climate Envoy Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner who implored the court in the statement to recognise the link between greenhouse gas emissions from activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and the resulting implications on global marine and coastal environments.

She stated in the submission that “this causes violence to our innate connection to the marine environment on which our culture and livelihoods rely, that is why we need the global community to act not just for us but for our entire planet as we may be one of the first countries witnessing these impacts, but we won’t be the last.”

The judges’ advisory opinion handed down overnight means that major polluters have a range of legal obligations under UNCLOS to prevent, reduce and control marine pollution. It also confirms its understanding that greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) are in fact marine pollution and thus falls within the legal framework of the Law of the Sea.

The court also said states’ have a legal obligation to monitor and reduce the emissions that contribute to climate change and laid out specific requirements for their environment impact assessments.