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Pacific Islanders Applaud UN’s Vote on Climate Justice, Saying its ‘Beginning of a New Era’ 

Law students from eight Pacific island nations formed PISFCC in 2019

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Sadaf Hasan
Sadaf Hasan
Aspiring reporter covering trending topics

VANUATU: A group of Pacific Island students who were crucial in pushing a UN resolution that should make it simpler to hold polluting countries legally responsible for failing to address the climate crisis have hailed its approval as historic.

“Young people everywhere will remember the day when we were able to convince the International Court of Justice to support the battle for climate justice,” said Solomon Yeo, Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change (PISFCC) campaign director.

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The resolution requests that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issue a ruling outlining nations’ responsibilities to address the climate catastrophe and the penalties they should incur for inaction.

The president of the PISFCC, Cynthia Houniuhi, who is also from the Solomon Islands, stated, “One day on my island, I don’t want to display a picture of my child.” Cynthia added that “the ecosystem that sustains us is crumbling before our eyes.” She added that she wants “her child to be able to experience the same environment and culture that she did growing up.”

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Law students from eight Pacific island nations formed PISFCC in 2019 and began their campaign to convince their leaders to take the resolution to the UN’s highest court out of frustration with the lack of progress being made on climate change.

Pacific countries quickly heeded the appeal of the law students, led by Vanuatu

Pacific Island countries are at risk of having large swathes of their islands submerged by rising seas. Scientists say that climate change brought on by the burning of fossil fuels has exacerbated extreme weather events as well as rising sea levels. The resolution requests that the court give special consideration to the damage endured by the small island states.

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Ishmael Kalsakau, the prime minister of Vanuatu, hailed the resolution as “a win for climate justice of epic proportions.”

“With today’s historic resolution, multilateral climate cooperation enters a new phase that will be more fully devoted to upholding international law and will prioritise intergenerational equality and human rights when making climate-related decisions,” said the Prime Minister.

As soon as the opinion was issued, UN Secretary General António Guterres expressed his hope that it would inspire countries to “take the bolder and stronger climate action that our world so desperately needs.”

While the ICJ’s decision won’t be legally binding, Nilufer Oral, head of the Centre for International Law at the University of Singapore, said it will spur states “to actually go back and look at what they haven’t been doing and what they need to do” to address the climate emergency.

Christopher Bartlett, the climate diplomacy coordinator for the government of Vanuatu, stated that the court has additional authority that it can use. Other international legal documents that the court may refer to include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which are legally binding in the nations that have signed them.

According to Bartlett, “What damage has been done to the climate is one of the queries the ICJ will pose. Should certain state acts be mandated? Is receiving financial assistance a legal repercussion for doing harm?”

Now the resolution goes to court

In 2015, as part of the Paris Agreement, nations vowed to strive to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, with a 2 degree limit. The pact asks the nations to send their plans to limit greenhouse gases to the UN and keep them updated and revised on a regular basis. 

The advisory opinion’s primary goals, according to Ralph Regenvanu, Vanuatu’s minister for climate change, are to clarify those obligations for states as well as other commitments to safeguard biodiversity and strengthen domestic policies.

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