Small-Island Nations Take Heavy Polluting Countries to Court Under Law of the Sea
In a first-of-its-kind hearing, small island nations disproportionately affected by the climate crisis are taking high-emitting countries to court. The suit is being viewed as the first climate justice case with the goal of protecting the ocean.
The prime ministers of the islands of Barbuda and Tuvalu, acting as representatives of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (COSIS), are presenting evidence at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg, Germany. They are seeking an advisory opinion on what obligations countries have to safeguard the marine environment in the face of climate change.
“We come here seeking urgent help, in the strong belief that international law is an essential mechanism for correcting the manifest injustice that our people are suffering as a result of climate change,” said Prime Minister of Tuvalu Kausea Natano, as Reuters reported.
The opinion of the tribunal will not be legally binding, but present an authoritative legal statement for future guidance to countries in formulating laws regarding climate protection.
Natano said Tuvalu had not received any help despite seeking it for decades, reported The New York Times.
The prime minister said the island “will become mostly uninhabitable, if not inundated, in the next few decades. More than 10,000 people will be forced to leave,” The New York Times reported.
The Paris Agreement requires nations to reduce their emissions and states the objective of limiting global heating to well below two degrees Celsius, but countries are allowed to formulate their own plans of action to meet these goals.
Estimates have suggested that half of Funafuti, the capital of Tuvalu, will become flooded by mid-century, reported The Guardian.
“Extreme weather events, which grow in number and intensity with each passing year, are killing our people and destroying our infrastructure. Entire marine and coastal ecosystems are dying in waters that are becoming warmer and more acidic,” Natano said, as The Guardian reported.
Natano said he had confidence in international tribunals and courts not allowing climate change threats to his island to continue unabated.
“Some of these states will become uninhabitable in a generation and many will be submerged under the sea. This is an attempt to use all the tools available to force major polluters to change course while they still can,” said Payam Akhavan, lead counsel and chair of legal experts for COSIS, as reported by The Guardian.