Vanuatu is asking the International Court of Justice to issue an opinion on the rights of present and future generations to be protected from the adverse effects of climate change.
Vanuatu, with a population of some 280,000 people spread across roughly 80 islands, is among more than a dozen Pacific island nations facing rising sea levels and more regular storms.
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“In response to the catastrophic levels of climate change loss and damage faced by this small Pacific nation, Vanuatu recognises that current levels of action and support for vulnerable developing countries within multilateral mechanisms are insufficient,” the government said in a statement on Saturday.
Vanuatu said it will route the initiative through the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
While advisory opinions by the court are not legally binding, they carry legal weight and moral authority given its status as the highest UN court for disputes between states. Its opinions can inform the development of international law.
Before November’s COP26 UN climate talks in Scotland, Vanuatu will “drastically expand its diplomacy and advocacy” to build a coalition with fellow Pacific islands and other vulnerable nations, it said.
Caleb Pollard, president of Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change, said global responses so far were “mostly band-aid solutions that are in reality just buying more time and failing to provide actual meaningful change”.
“We must address the crisis by systematically targeting the root causes of one of the biggest and most imminent threats we face today,” Pollard said in a statement.
In April, Tropical Cyclone Harold hit Vanuatu and demolished tourist resorts in another South Pacific island nation of Tonga, extending a weeklong trail of destruction across four island nations with more than two dozen people killed.
In 2015, about 64 percent of the island nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) was wiped out in a single cyclone, causing economic losses of nearly $450m.
In 2019, Vanuatu considered legal action against big polluters thousands of kilometres away amid the effects of rising sea temperatures, intense cyclones, and erratic weather patterns.
Vanuatu and other South Pacific nations are being forced to spend more money, not only on protecting themselves, but also on keeping their businesses afloat because of climate change.