A small island nation in the Pacific has achieved the graceful diplomatic victory that can elude the world's superpowers.
population 300,000, rallied most countries
on Wednesday to ask the world's highest court to intervene in a high-stakes question:
Can countries be sued under international law for failing to stop climate change?
Alatoi Ishmael Kalsakau, Prime Minister of Vanuatu, delivers his remarks after addressing delegates during a general assembly to vote on whether to ask the world's highest court to issue a ruling on climate responsibility, at United Nations headquarters.
The measure was approved by consensus, meaning that none of the 193 member states requested a vote.
The General Assembly hall
erupted in applause.
That it has been adopted by consensus reflects widespread frustration that the greenhouse gas emissions that warm the planet and wreak havoc in the poorest nations are not being reduced fast enough.
United Nations Secretary-General
said the move would "help the General Assembly, the UN and member states take the boldest and strongest climate action our world desperately needs."
In essence, with this resolution, the nations of the world are asking the International Court of Justice, based in The Hague, to issue an opinion on whether governments have "legal obligations" to protect people from climate hazards and, What is more important, if the
breach of those obligations
could bring “legal consequences”.
The opinion of the international court would not be binding.
But, depending on what it says, it could potentially turn the voluntary pledges each country has made under the Paris climate agreement into legal obligations under a variety of existing international statutes, such as those on children's rights or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Human rights.
That could, in turn, lay the groundwork for new legal claims.
(Some national courts have already relied in part on international law to rule in favor of the claims of climate activists.)
The UN resolution is among a series of legal and diplomatic hurdles aimed at major emitting nations.
It began when a group of law students from Pacific island nations proposed to ask the
International Court of Justice
whether existing international law could be used to protect future generations.
Years ago, the Marshall Islands and Palau had raised a similar idea.
But it got nowhere due to opposition from powerful countries.
(The United States has authority over the defense of both.)
Vanuatu adopted the measure last year.
Other Pacific island nations joined, then several from Africa and Asia.
By the time the draft resolution was put to the vote in the General Assembly,
had signed on as co-sponsors.
Vanuatu is also among a group of vulnerable island nations pushing for a global fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty.
Like many other low-lying islands, it is on the front lines of climatic hazards.
Six villages on four of its islands have been relocated as rising sea levels, a telltale sign of climate change, have turned water supplies so salty that they are undrinkable.
Cyclones and warmer ocean waters have destroyed coral reefs.
Its most valuable commodity is tuna, but the fish are moving further and further from Vanuatu's territorial waters as the oceans warm.
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c.2023 The New York Times Company
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