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ClientEarth Communications

23rd November 2023

Environmental justice
Climate litigation

How we can use the power of the law at COP28 to support those most vulnerable to climate change

Climate change is not a distant threat but an urgent crisis, severely affecting some of the most vulnerable communities worldwide. As the international community gathers for COP28, the focus is not only on reducing emissions but on leveraging the power of international law to support those most affected by climate change.

What are we hoping to see from discussions at COP28?

1. Ambitious plans to protect human and environmental rights

We want to see parties at COP28 make ambitious submissions to international courts, emphasising climate justice and the protection of human and environmental rights. This includes strengthening arguments on climate justice to ensure the highest levels of protection and addressing questions of adaptation and other forms of finance.

You can add your voice and tell world leaders at COP to protect human rights.

Sign our open letter for COP28

2. Inclusive conversations

States must broaden the role of civil society in international proceedings. Specifically, the inclusion of civil society demands, with a focus on youth and Indigenous groups, is crucial. This move ensures diverse voices are heard in vital conversations on climate justice.

3. Loss and damage fund

Wealthy nations made a pledge in 2009, then integrated in the Paris Agreement, for a yearly USD 100 billion by 2020 climate finance to help developing countries tackle climate change. The mobilisation of this financing is critical and its fulfilment by developed countries has been delayed. For the most vulnerable already hit by irreparable effects of climate change, the finalisation of the Loss and Damage Fund established at COP27 must place human rights at its core. They must now step up action on the Fund.

Small Island States leading the legal charge

For decades, Small Island States have championed international cooperative efforts when it comes to tackling climate change worldwide. Now, they are at the forefront of the conversations clarifying legal obligations around adapting to climate change. Here’s how:

  1. In March this year, the UN passed a resolution that requested an opinion on climate change and human rights from International Court of Justice (ICJ), the world’s highest court. The initiative was championed by Vanuatu in the South Pacific. The ICJ has now been asked to clarify what obligations nations have to limit climate harm to people and to the environment, and the consequences if they fail to do so.
  2. Colombia and Chile have sought an advisory opinion from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to clarify obligations regarding climate change in the Americas. This provides an opportunity to advance human rights and environmental protection globally, with ClientEarth advocating for a focus on the scientific evidence on climate change and human life and well-being.
  3. A group of nine low-emitting small island states has sought legal clarification from the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) on nations’ responsibility for limiting greenhouse gas emissions with particular focus on their duty to protect the marine environment. These nine countries are all highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and rising sea levels. We actively engaged in this process, urging States to participate and offered our legal analysis on the issues before the Tribunal.
  4. The establishment of a loss and damage fund at COP27 marked a historic breakthrough. However, this commitment needs to actually be met if we’re to truly address climate injustice. ClientEarth, joins the calls of other NGOs, for the restoration of human rights references in the fund's objectives and purpose.

As COP28 unfolds, the international community has a unique opportunity to shape the future of climate justice through law. By actively engaging in the conversations and ensuring the loss and damage fund along lines of human rights and equity, nations can collectively work towards a more just and sustainable future for people and planet.

Read our COP28 Policy Report