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Vanuatu Considers Suing Fossil-Fuel Industry, Industrialized Nations


FILE - Children play on the beach in Takara, Efate Island, Vanuatu, May 30, 2015. The town was damaged months earlier during Cyclone Pam. Many people in the town considered rebuilding on higher ground to escape what they thought were the effects of climate change.

Climate-vulnerable Vanuatu is considering legal action against the industries and countries that have benefited the most from pollution-causing fossil fuels, Foreign Minister Ralph Regenvanu said Thursday at a virtual climate summit being held online.

"Vanuatu is on the front lines of climate change and yet we have benefited least from the exploitation of fossil fuels that has caused it," Regenvanu said. "I am therefore today putting the fossil fuel industry, and the states that sponsor it, on notice that the climate loss and damages ravaging Vanuatu will not go unchallenged."

He said the fossil fuel companies, which make billions of dollars in profit each year, should pay for environmental and economic damages caused in countries like Vanuatu, which is already suffering severe effects of climate change, including rising sea levels.

Vanuatu is home to more than 260,000 people who live on more than 82 islands -- many of which sit less than a meter above sea level -- stretched across 1,300 kilometers in the South Pacific Ocean.

"The injustice of climate change is that the impacts are felt first and hardest by those with the least responsibility for its causes," Regenvanu said.

He made the comments at the opening of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), an international summit being held entirely online and focused on those most at risk to the destructive effects of climate change.

CVF organizers are urging the world's governments to go beyond the climate targets set by the 2015 Paris Agreement, which sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to keep global temperature increase well below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.

FILE - A woman weaves a mat in a village on Tanna Island in Vanuatu, June 2, 2015. Tanna Island was particularly hard hit by Cyclone Pam, which struck in March of that year. Many people in Vanuatu believed the cyclone was the latest manifestation of climate change's effect on the area.
FILE - A woman weaves a mat in a village on Tanna Island in Vanuatu, June 2, 2015. Tanna Island was particularly hard hit by Cyclone Pam, which struck in March of that year. Many people in Vanuatu believed the cyclone was the latest manifestation of climate change's effect on the area.

Regenvanu said it was one of the legal options Vanuatu is considering.

"My government is now exploring all avenues to utilize the judicial system in various jurisdictions, including under international law, to shift the costs of climate protection back on to fossil fuel companies, the financial institutions and the governments that actively and knowingly created this existential threat to my country," he said.

Climate change lawsuits against corporations and governments are on the rise, according to a Reuters report.

The city of Baltimore, in the eastern U.S. state of Maryland, filed a lawsuit in June against 26 oil and gas companies and entities, including BP Plc., Chevron Corp. and Exxon Mobil Corp., for knowingly contributing to what the city called the catastrophic consequences of climate change, Reuters reported.

On Friday, a U.S. federal climate change assessment report, using information from such agencies as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Department of Energy (DOE), will be released.

"It's very interesting, what you will see tomorrow," Pavel Kabat, World Meteorological Organization chief scientist, told the Associated Press on Thursday. "That is a major report coming supported by all agencies ... under the administration of President Trump ranging from NOAA to NASA, from NASA to DOE, showing the fundamental impacts of climate change on the U.S. continent."

The report comes ahead of December's annual global climate summit, to be held in Katowice, Poland.

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