Vanuatu will seek an opinion from the World Court to clarify the legal obligations of all countries to prevent and redress the adverse effects of climate change

Julian Aguon and Margaretha Wewerinke-Singh of the Pacific law firm Blue Ocean Law are leading a team of prominent international lawyers representing the Republic of Vanuatu in its initiative to request an advisory opinion on climate change from the International Court of Justice (ICJ).  

Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific, has been a leader in the climate justice movement for decades. Last month, the country announced that it will seek an opinion from the World Court to clarify the legal obligations of all countries to prevent and redress the adverse effects of climate change. 

“As the most recent IPCC report makes clear, the window of opportunity to avoid climate catastrophe is rapidly closing,” says Aguon, the founder of Blue Ocean Law, who is based in Guam. “Without bold action, climate vulnerable countries like Vanuatu will face an onslaught of adverse impacts from coastal inundation, to loss of freshwater, to increasingly severe storms and cyclones. This situation is untenable, as the nation is already reeling from one Category 5 cyclone to another.” 

“Climate change is the greatest crisis of our time. With forests burning, storms raging, and oceans acidifying, the planet’s natural systems are in free fall,” says Wewerinke-Singh, who co-leads the team from The Hague. “For the past 30 years, Vanuatu has called for more ambition and equity in international climate change negotiations; however, the negotiations have struggled to deliver on these fronts. An advisory opinion from the World Court could help to rectify this failure.” 

Aguon and Wewerinke-Singh are joined by four external counsel, who have supported the development of the international legal strategy: Pierre-Marie Dupuy from France, Emeritus Professor at Panthéon-Assas University, Lavanya Rajamani from India, Professor of International Environmental Law at Oxford University, Jennifer Robinson from Australia, barrister at Doughty Street Chambers and Jorge Viñuales from Argentina/Switzerland, Harold Samuel Professor of Law and Environmental Policy at Cambridge University. Blue Ocean Law attorneys Julie Hunter and Autumn Bordner from the United States, Kevin Chand from Fiji and Melina Antoniadis from Canada/Greece are also part of the team. 

“We have put together a ‘dream team’ made up of some of the world’s foremost authorities in international law and climate change,” says Aguon. “We also wanted to ensure that our team reflects the geographical and gendered diversity of the solutions we need to respond to the climate crisis,” adds Wewerinke-Singh. 

Since announcing its intent to pursue an ICJ advisory opinion, Vanuatu has taken several steps at the domestic level to build capacity as well as momentum for the initiative, including establishing a Climate Loss and Damage Legal Taskforce, and securing the endorsement of the country’s National Advisory Board on Climate Change. In September, Prime Minister Bob Loughman formally announced the initiative during the annual session of the UNGA. 

Blue Ocean Law is an international law firm based in Guam specialiing in human and indigenous rights, self-determination, and environmental justice. It adopts a holistic approach to the practice of law combined with a grassroots orientation that privileges marginalised voices. The firm’s practice focuses on issues of pressing concern to Pacific peoples, such as political and economic self-determination for non-self-governing territories, redress for victims of nuclear testing and non-consensual medical experimentation, accountability for anthropogenic climate change, and recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples.

This feature was published at Blueocean Law on 23 October 2021, reposted via PACNEWS.

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