Image: Campaigners outside the UN General Assembly in New York. Source: UNFOLD ZERO - Photo: 2023

UN General Assembly Seeks World Court Ruling on Climate Change

Youth-Led Initiative Focuses on Protecting Human Rights

By J Nastranis

NEW YORK, 29 March 2023 (IDN) — The UN General Assembly has adopted a landmark resolution requesting the International Court of Justice to render an Advisory Opinion on the obligations of States in respect of climate change.

Pacific Island Students Fighting Climate Change initiated the resolution, the World’s Youth for Climate Justice promoted it globally, and Vanuatu introduced it into the UNGA.

The impact of previous ICJ cases, in particular the very influential 1996 ICJ Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, has inspired the resolution adopted on 29 March. Now that the Resolution has been adopted, the Court will commence legal proceedings.

The request to ICJ is unanimous.

In 2021, Vanuatu announced its intention to seek an ICJ advisory opinion. Vanuatu established a core group of 18 countries to join its bid, including Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Germany, Liechtenstein, Federated States of Micronesia, Morocco, Mozambique, New Zealand, Portugal, Romania, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Uganda, and Vietnam.

By the time of UNGA action, the cross-regional core group secured more than 130 states as cosponsors of the resolution. The resolution was then adopted without any opposing votes.

The resolution argues:

Governments are failing in their efforts to reduce carbon emissions sufficiently to prevent catastrophic climatic consequences.

Vested interests in the fossil fuel economies have too much power nationally and in the international climate negotiations.

Developing countries and poorer communities are disproportionately impacted by a crisis caused predominantly by the developed, richer countries.

The few governments taking action to achieve net zero are at a competitive disadvantage to those governments not taking such action.

The ICJ can affirm legal obligations that apply universally, and it can level the playing field to ensure an equitable transition to a global fossil-fuel-free economy.

Important roles of youth and impacted communities

The campaign to get the UNGA to take this action was initiated by youth and has been led primarily by youth. The resolution highlights the rights under international law of present and future generations. Youth voices in the ICJ proceedings will therefore be very important.

In addition, the resolution highlights the impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities. The voices of these communities in the Court’s proceedings will also be very important.

Civil society representatives do not have direct standing in the Court. However, UN Member States will be invited by the Court to make written and oral submissions on the issue. Member states will be encouraged to include testimonies from youth and impacted communities in their submissions.

Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change and World’s Youth for Climate Justice gathered outside the UNGA hall said: “Today we celebrate four years of arduous work by the Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change members in convincing our leaders and raising global awareness on the initiative. We commend the undying support of our Pacific civil society organizations, communities and youth, who, without their support, we would not have ventured this far.”

The adopted Resolution, they said, is a testament that Pacific youth are not insignificant but can play an instrumental role in advancing global climate action. “Precisely why it is in our best interests that the youth voices should remain integral in the entire process. Now the first stage is over, we look to join hand in hand with our governments and relevant stakeholders in bringing the world’s biggest problem to the world’s highest court,” UNFOLD ZERO stated.

UNFOLD ZERO is a platform for United Nations (UN) focused initiatives and actions for the achievement of a nuclear weapons-free world. UNFOLD ZERO aims to unfold the path to zero nuclear weapons through effective steps and measures facilitated by the UN General Assembly, UN Security Council, UN Secretary-General and other UN bodies. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Image: Campaigners outside the UN General Assembly in New York. Source: UNFOLD ZERO

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