Last week, the UN General Assembly, in response to a series of requests from Pacific countries that are directly affected by climate change upheaval, adopted a resolution requesting the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to provide an advisory opinion on States’ obligations concerning Climate Change.
The Court was requested to address the following issues:
(a) What are the obligations of States under international law to ensure the protection of the climate system and other parts of the environment from anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gasses (GHG) for States and for present and future generations?
(b) What are the legal consequences under these obligations for States where they, by their acts and omissions, have caused significant harm to the climate system and other parts of the environment, with respect to:
- States, including, in particular, small island developing States, which due to their geographical circumstances and level of development, are injured or specially affected by or are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change?
- Peoples and individuals of the present and future generations affected by the adverse effects of climate change?
The General Assembly had previously voted a resolution underscoring the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment as a human right. This resolution also called for the “full implementation of multinational environmental agreements under the principle of international environmental law”.
What can we expect?
The advisory opinion has no binding force, but it carries great legal weight and moral authority. Bearing in mind that the ICJ is known to hold a cautionary approach under international law. Its opinion will undoubtedly clarify and concretize the growing links between climate change and human rights, building on the obligations of States under the Paris Agreement or other. It will also constitute a legal benchmark against which state actions are scrutinized.
However, clarity and alignment are great, but not enough, especially considering the recent IPPC report, according to which the bell has already tolled on climate change.
The ICJ advisory opinion needs to be innovative to meet the expectation and push for the much needed action.
- How to push countries to provide redress for those impacted?
- The Court needs to build on the growing momentum for domestic and regional courts on climate and environmental litigation and their role on achieving climate justice.
- Will the Court clarify the still debated notion of “future generations” as victims of climate change? In order to set an international expectations?
- How will human rights rules apply to hold states accountable for failing to fulfil its obligations related to climate change?
A compilation exercise would not be useful, not when the stakes are this high.