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Climate justice

Vanuatu’s questions to the ICJ

The Small Island Developing State leads a global coalition to clarify state obligations and legal consequences related to global heating. The outcome could significantly impact future climate litigation.
Alatoi Ishmael Kalsakau, Prime Minister of Vanuatu, spoke at the UN general assembly in March 2023. picture-alliance/REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz Alatoi Ishmael Kalsakau, Prime Minister of Vanuatu, spoke at the UN general assembly in March 2023.

Worldwide, there are more and more examples of citizens and communities that successfully take legal action on climate issues. However, states can do so too. In March 2023, the tiny Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu led an initiative to submit a resolution to the UN General Assembly requesting an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN’s highest judicial body.

The aim was to ask the ICJ about:

  • the legal obligations of states regarding climate change and
  • the legal consequences for states which have caused significant harm to the climate and other parts of the environment, with respect to other states – especially Small Island Developing States (SIDS) – as well as to peoples and individuals of present and future generations.

The UN General Assembly adopted the resolution, and the questions have been officially submitted to the ICJ. The court is expected to provide its advisory opinion in 2025. While non-binding, the ICJ’s answer is expected to carry significant weight in the debate on emission reduction on a national level and climate funding for poorer countries. It could strengthen existing international legal frameworks and guide states in crafting more effective national climate action plans.

Vanuatu is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change. Rising sea levels, extreme weather events and ocean acidification threaten the very existence of the island nation and its people. Together with other SIDS, Vanuatu has been constantly campaigning to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels to protect its people. 


Roli Mahajan is a freelance journalist based in Lucknow in North India.

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