The Prime Ministers of Antigua and Barbuda and Tuvalu, have filed a case on greenhouse gas emissions before the international tribunal for the law of the sea.
Gaston Browne and Kausea Natano; Co-Chairs of the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law submitted a request for an Advisory Opinion today on the obligation of States under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to protect and preserve the marine environment in relation to climate change impacts, including ocean warming, sea level rise, and ocean acidification.
According to a statement from the government, the historic proceeding before ITLOS is the first inter-State case addressing the international legal obligations of States with regard to climate change.
“The request to ITLOS is complementary to and in support of the initiative of Vanuatu, to have the UN General Assembly request an Advisory Opinion on climate change from the International Court of Justice (ICJ). It is anticipated that ITLOS will schedule the filing of written pleadings and a hearing in 2023, in which all States Parties to UNCLOS as well as international organizations will be able to participate,” the statement said.
Prime Minister Browne said this is a historic step for Small Island States, to invoke international law in an effort to ensure that the major polluters take their obligations seriously, to prevent harm to vulnerable states or to compensate them for damage.
“Our peoples are already feeling the catastrophic consequences of climate change. We cannot continue business as usual. If humankind does not act with urgency, some of our island nations will disappear under the sea within a generation. Protection of the marine environment is a matter of survival. Greenhouse gas emissions should not be treated less seriously than other forms of pollution. If anything, they require even greater urgency and a commitment to respect existing principles of international law,” he said.
COSIS is assisted by a Committee of Legal Experts consisting of 14 distinguished jurists from around the world. The Agreement establishing COSIS was signed at COP26 on October 31st, 2021, in Edinburgh.
The current members are Antigua and Barbuda, Tuvalu, Palau, Niue, Vanuatu, and Saint Lucia.