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.
That plan – hatched by Yeo, who is from Solomon Islands, and 26 of his classmates in 2019, and now led by the island nation of Vanuatu – has made the extraordinary, improbable journey from a law school classroom in Port Vila to the Hague, where this week a major legal conference examining the case for the advisory opinion will be held.
If it is successful – and those involved in the campaign are quietly confident it will be – then this would be the first authoritative statement on climate change issued by the ICJ. The opinion would clarify legal questions related to climate change, for instance about states’ obligation to other countries and could have huge implications for climate change litigation and the setting of domestic law, as well as international, regional and domestic disputes on climate harm.
However, there is still some way to go for Vanuatu. It's endeavouring to garner support from other nations on the exact framing of the question they seek an opinion on and then, in September, get a majority of the United Nations general assembly to vote in favour of putting it to the ICJ.
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