International Court gets closer to ruling on states’ climate policies

At the United Nations in New York more than 130 member states have voted for the International Court of Justice to pronounce on “the obligations incumbent on states” to protect the climate “for present and future generations”.

The resolution, which has been years in the making, was proposed by the tiny Pacific island state of Vanuatu. 

It means the world’s highest court will now clarify what countries must do legally to defend the environment from climate harm.

However the resolution is non-binding, meaning that there is no need for any state to abide by any clarifications it if chooses not to.

“For some countries, climate threats are a death sentence. Indeed, it is the initiative of those countries, joined by so many others – along with the efforts of young people all over the world – that brings us together. And together, you are making history,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a speech to the General Assembly.

A week ago, UN climate experts warned that global warming will increase by one and a half degrees by 2030-2035.

The 2015 Paris Agreement – which is legally binding – set the long term goal to keep warming to two degrees at the most by the end of this century.

A lawyer for ClientEarth, an organisation which works to legally boost the fight against global warming, gave her reaction.

“International courts and tribunals are increasingly being asked to clarify and define the law around global efforts to fight the climate crisis – and for good reason,”  Lea Main-Klingst said.

“International law is an important tool for shaping the fight against climate change – and as yet, we’ve not seen its full power. Advisory opinions such as this have the potential to clarify the legal obligations of States on one of the most pressing issues of our time – and can guide future climate action. This is an important advance in the climate law scape.”

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