A global alliance was launched Thursday to support Vanuatu’s bid to ask the International Court of Justice to consider the human rights impacts of climate change. More than 1,500 organizations, including charities, church and student groups, from 130 countries are backing the Pacific island nation’s action.
Vanuatu says global warming is a human rights issue. It wants the International Court of Justice to protect vulnerable communities, and the rights of residents.
The court’s advisory opinions are not binding but can set a precedent that could lead to tougher laws to address climate change.
Solomon Yeo, from the campaign group Pacific Island Students Fighting Climate Change, said Vanuatu’s case is a milestone.
“The Vanuatu government thinks, as do most of the world’s eminent climate lawyers, that a revised opinion on climate change from the International Court of Justice has real potential to be a circuit-breaker that will lead to greater ambition under the Paris Agreement,” he said. “So, in the future, no one can deny that climate change is a human rights issue that impacts who are alive today and those who will follow us.”
Many Pacific island nations are already seeing rising sea levels and more intense cyclones.
Vanuatu said it will take its case to the United Nations General Assembly in September, which will decide whether to refer it to the International Court of Justice. It would take a simple majority vote for the matter to proceed to the world’s highest court.
Vanuatu and other Pacific island nations are among the most vulnerable to climate change, according to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Australia’s national science agency. It said many were already witnessing rainfall pattern shifts, rising sea levels and changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme climate events.
Vanuatu’s prime minister, Bob Loughman, has called climate change an “existential threat” to his nation of about 280,000 people, who live across an archipelago of roughly 80 islands.