Posted inOpinion / Our region

Pacific must continue leading the charge – The International Court decision on climate change

Let it not be said that Pacific Island countries don’t punch above their weight on the international scene. We may be small island countries, but on everything from nuclear weapons to combating climate change, we are at the forefront of global leadership.

We are the quiet achievers, using the Pacific way to win over allies and sceptics to push an agenda that is good for the Pacific. And we know what is good for the Pacific is good for the world. Our Pacific family is united that the climate crisis is our biggest existential threat.

We are already feeling the effects of a warming world, through extreme weather and sea level rise. If the world fails to reduce emissions in line with science, it is our people, our environment and our culture that are at the most risk. Climate change is causing a human rights crisis for us. But we are not only the most vulnerable but the most active.

We are putting our money where our mouth is. While richer countries continue to dig up, use, and export planet-killing fossil fuels, the Pacific is moving to a fossil fuel-free future. The Port Vila Call for a Just Transition to a Fossil Fuel-Free Pacific is an exciting initiative, led by Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Tonga, Fiji, Niue, and the Solomon Islands.

Countries like the Marshall Islands and the Solomon Islands are at the forefront of decarbonising global shipping, pushing the agenda at global meetings. And let us not forget the spectacular diplomatic victory by the Pacific in securing a United Nations General Assembly Resolution earlier this year.

The global community unanimously adopted Vanuatu’s Resolution, calling the International Court of Justice to issue an advisory opinion on the obligations of States with respect to climate change. It has been inspiring to watch an idea born in a humble classroom in Vanuatu travel throughout the Pacific, all the way to New York, where 132 countries co-sponsor, and now to the court’s home in the Netherlands.

We are encouraged by the support of our Pacific family for the ICJ Advisory Opinion, not only for their vote at the UN, but for the work they undertook to lobby countries around the world to support it by consensus. But the Pacific cannot rest on its laurels. If solving the climate crisis was easy, it would be done already. With the International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion, our job is not done.

We need to continue to push the agenda. Pacific governments must be at the forefront of ensuring the International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion fulfils its potential.

The current situation is that states recognise they have an obligation to mitigate climate change, redress vulnerable countries that are already suffering and ensure that everyone is able to adapt to the climate crisis. But there has been a consistent failure from particularly high polluting countries to take the action needed.

The last Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Rarotonga, Cook Islands reaffirmed this, with leaders strongly encouraging the participation of all Forum Members in the advisory proceedings of the ICJ, in particular by developing progressive and comprehensive national written submission to the court. A legal opinion that reinforces the obligations of those states under international law could change all that. But that is not a foregone conclusion. We must continue to work.

The International Court of Justice is currently receiving submissions from Governments that will inform their work. It is crucial that all Pacific Governments prioritise making submissions to the court, highlighting the impacts climate change is having on our countries, people, and our region. It is up to us to articulate that countries that continue to export and use fossil fuels, especially rich countries that have caused the bulk of the world’s carbon pollution, have to face legal consequences for their actions, including compensation, loss, and damage payments and provision of climate finance to help us adapt.

It is our unique perspective that will ensure the opinion has the lasting legal effect needed to stop the climate crisis in its tracks.

This opinion was written by Cynthia Houniuhi (the President, Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change) and Vishal Prasad (the Campaign Director, Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change), originally published at The Fiji Times on 08 March 2024, reposted via PACNEWS.

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