Island states win historic climate case in world oceans court

Nine small island states have won a historic climate change case at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), which ruled that all signatories to a United Nations treaty on marine activities must do more to protect the world’s oceans from climate change.

The tribunal found (PDF) that signatories to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea’s responsibilities to prevent marine pollution extend to greenhouse gas emissions, which harm oceans by altering the earth’s atmosphere.

The island states had asked the court to clarify what was considered marine pollution under the convention, amid rising oceans, soaring ocean temperatures and ocean acidification caused by fossil fuels and other greenhouse gas emissions.

Gaston Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, one of the countries that brought the case, said small island nations were “fighting for their survival” due to the emissions of big polluters.

“Some will become uninhabitable in the near future because of the failure to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. “We demand that the major polluters respect international law and stop the catastrophic harm against us before it is too late.”

The 1994 convention, signed by 169 countries, already provides the legal basis for countries to protect the marine environment from polluting substances, including oil from ships, but the tribunal’s decision acknowledges that atmospheric emissions are also harming oceans.

The tribunal ruled that states had an obligation to act, noting “the high risks of serious and irreversible harm to the marine environment”.

The Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (COSIS), which brought the case on behalf of nine countries, hailed the advisory opinion from the world court as a “tremendous legal victory”.

“[The court made] history by delivering the first ever advisory opinion on climate change and oceans,” COSIS said.

people dance in front of a banner that says save the pacific save the world
Dancers from the Matavai Pacific Cultural Arts Centre participate in a climate change rally in Sydney, Australia [Dan Himbrechts/EPA-EFE]

Island countries have fought for more decisive action on climate change for decades and battled disinformation spread by fossil fuel companies.

Source: Al Jazeera


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