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A Win for Climate Justice of Epic Proportions

The Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu has won a historic vote at the United Nations that calls on the world’s highest court to establish for the first time the obligations countries have to address the climate crisis - and the consequences if they don’t.

Vanuatu national flag
Victory sign incorporating the Vanuatu national flag

In 2019, during their final year at law school, Solomon Yeo and his classmates set their minds to saving the world. The legal students, who were studying at the University of South Pacific in Vanuatu, all hailed from Pacific island countries that are among the most vulnerable in the world to the climate crisis.

The idea the students came up with was to change international law by getting the world’s highest court - the international court of justice (ICJ) - to issue an advisory opinion on the climate crisis. Namely, to recognise climate harm in international law. Remarkably, they have just succeeded in their goal.

“Today we have witnessed a win for climate justice of epic proportions,” said Ishmael Kalsakau, prime minister of Vanuatu, reports The Guardian. “Today’s historic resolution is the beginning of a new era in multilateral climate cooperation, one that is more fully focused on upholding the rule of international law and an era that places human rights and intergenerational equity at the forefront of climate decision-making.”

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 was passed by majority, backed by more than 130 countries, reports CNN. Two of the world’s largest climate polluters, the US and China, did not express support, but did not object - meaning the measure passed by consensus.

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