In a historic resolution, at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, governments approved a resolution, recognising the huge challenge of climate change and calling on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to provide an advisory opinion on how it intersects with international law.
The landmark resolution seeks clarity on nations’ legal and human rights obligations relative to climate change, responding to the pleas from small island states whose very existence is at risk.
Ishmael Kalsakau, Prime Minister of Vanuatu, and a broad coalition of states from all regions brought this resolution forward in the General Assembly, building on support from a committed, determined campaign by civil society – including vital voices of young people in the Pacific and beyond. They called the decision “a win for climate justice of epic proportions”.
António Guterres, the UN-General Secretary stressed that now is the time for climate action and climate justice.
“The climate crisis can only be overcome through cooperation – between peoples, cultures, nations, generations. But festering climate injustice feeds divisions and threatens to paralyse global climate action,” he warned.
The ICJ, also known as the World Court, is the UN’s principal judicial organ. Although its advisory opinions are not legally binding, they carry legal authority and moral weight.
The resolution requests the ICJ to provide an advisory opinion on the legal obligations of States with respect to climate change and its adverse impacts around the world, including for future generations.
“The advisory opinion will have tremendous potential to bring into clearer focus such obligations, including towards people in vulnerable situations, and in international cooperation, as well as providing guidance for policy and litigation to come”, states the resolution.
This could be an important catalyst for the urgent, ambitious, and equitable climate action that is needed to stop global heating and to limit and remediate climate-induced human rights harms.
According to experts, this could encourage reviews of national climate plans, and push states to look harder at their domestic targets, aiming for stronger policies to cut emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.