The tiny south Pacific nation Vanuatu has declared a climate emergency, hoping to garner global support for its bid to have the International Court of Justice (ICJ) affirm that vulnerable nations must be protected from climate change.
Prime Minister Bob Loughman said in parliament that “the use of the term emergency is a way of signalling the need to go beyond reform as usual,” reports Al Jazeera.
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“Vanuatu’s responsibility is to push responsible nations to match action to the size and urgency of the crisis,” he added.
Home to 300,000 people across a 1,300-kilometre daisy chain of some 80 islands, Vanuatu lost 64% of its GDP to Tropical Cyclone Pam in 2015 and endured further devastation from Cyclone Harold in 2020.
“The Earth is already too hot and unsafe,” Loughman said. “We are in danger now, not just in the future.”
With sea level rise and episodic periods of unprecedented drought afflicting the island nation, the PM said the current cost of protecting his country from such clear and present dangers is US$1.2 billion. Much of this funding would need to come from donor countries, he added.
His deliberate use of the term “climate emergency” comes as Vanuatu continues to seek international support in its effort to have the ICJ weigh in on the climate crisis. The United Nations General Assembly is due to consider Vanuatu’s application at its annual meeting in New York in September. With a simple majority vote required to trigger ICJ involvement, climate diplomacy is now in full swing.
Climate Home News reports that the 15 heads of government of the Caribbean Community, an alliance that includes the Bahamas, Belize, Jamaica, Haiti, and Trinidad & Tobago, endorsed Vanuatu’s effort at a conference in March. Climate Action Network-International says the campaign has also secured the support of some 1,500 civil society organizations in 130 countries.
Odo Tevi, Vanuatu’s special climate envoy and permanent representative to the UN, told Climate Home a successful vote at the UN in September “would send a clear signal to present and future generations that no stone is being left unturned in this critical decade to change course.”
While ICJ opinions are not legally binding, Vanuatu hopes a court decision would carry moral weight in future climate lawsuits, and in ongoing international negotiations to secure greater protections for vulnerable states.
Climate Home says the idea of an appeal to the ICJ originated with environmental law students at Vanuatu’s University of the South Pacific, who then petitioned their government’s foreign ministry to take up their cause.
Confirming ongoing discussions of the ICJ petition with countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe, Tevi said that “so far progress has been good.”
“It is a big job for a small nation,” notes Climate Home, adding that “in 2012, the sinking archipelagos of Palau and the Marshall Islands tried and failed to secure a majority for a similar request, in the face of United States opposition.”