Press release: 29 March 2023
UNGA resolution ‘important advance’ in climate action – lawyers
Environmental lawyers at ClientEarth have welcomed the passing of a United Nations General Assembly resolution today, asking the world’s highest court to clarify what countries must do legally to defend human rights and the environment from climate harm.
The resolution, which has been years in the making, was proposed by Vanuatu last year and support has grown from just 17 co-sponsors in December to being adopted by consent by the UNGA.
It is now up to the International Court of Justice in the Hague, the world’s highest court, to determine what states are required to do under international law to prevent climate-related harm to present and future generations, as well as the legal consequences for having caused significant harm.
Reacting to the development, ClientEarth lawyer Lea Main-Klingst said:
“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.
“In the last few months alone, we’ve seen attention on these institutions build. Colombia and Chile are seeking a similar opinion from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and a group of small island states have set out to determine what obligations countries have, to limit climate harm under the Law of the Sea.
“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.”
These efforts have been supported by Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change, who first brought this concern to the government of Vanuatu. They are supported by a global movement of youth advocates.
Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change Campaign Director Solomon Yeo said:
“For the Pacific, the climate fight is one of survival and an advisory opinion will be a powerful catalyst in bringing the world back to the 1.5-degree target and will remain a tool that will continuously guide the world to take stronger climate action to avoid climate catastrophe. This is about securing a future for current and future generations and ensuring that our homes, livelihoods, cultures and traditions, which are all threatened by the climate crisis, remain a significant part of this future.”
Jule Schnakenberg, (Germany) of World’s Youth for Climate Justice said:
“The people have brought climate change to the International Court of Justice. After over a decade of Pacific leadership on the issue, finally a youth-initiated and global campaign has yielded fruit. Today, a majority of states have expressed their interest in understanding their obligations in relation to climate change, human rights and future generations. And not just understanding their obligations, but also understanding the legal consequences of failing to meet them.
“We welcome international support from countries in the Global South and the Global North alike. The world’s youth is watching closely and eager to see how states will tackle this question in front of the court. We stand ready to push for human rights and intergenerational equity the entire way.”
Notes to editors:
- Several notable international legal questions are emerging currently – from the Swiss case being heard today in the European Court of Human Rights, to an important ongoing request by the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (COSIS) to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).
- Read ClientEarth’s overview of what these cases mean for the international climate law context: Island states want answers on climate change from international courts | ClientEarth
- Read ClientEarth’s exploration of the COSIS request for an advisory opinion on the Law of the Sea: Request for an Advisory Opinion from the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea | ClientEarth
ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.