International courts and climate change

Source– The post is based on the article “International courts and climate change” published in The Hindu on 1st March 2023.

Syllabus: GS2- International relations

Relevance: Legal issues related to climate change

News- A group of 16 countries led by Vanuatu seeks an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the issue of climate change.

What are the various jurisdictions of ICJ? The ICJ has two types of jurisdictions: contentious and advisory.

Contentious jurisdiction– It refers to resolving legal disputes between consenting states,

Advisory jurisdiction– Under it, the UN General Assembly, the Security Council and other specialised bodies of the UN can request the ICJ for an opinion on a legal question.

Unlike contentious jurisdiction, the ICJ’s advisory opinions are non-binding. Yet, they carry normative weight and clarify international law on a relevant issue.

What are the legal opinions sought by Vanuatu from in its draft resolution?

First, what are the international law obligations of countries toward the protection of the climate system from anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases?

ICJ will not only interpret and clarify the existing international climate change law but also use the general and customary international law to fill the gaps in these treaties. Thus, the ICJ can use the ‘no-harm’ principle.

Second, what are the legal consequences for states that have caused significant harm to the climate system, the SID states and other people of the present and future generations?

This question seeks to determine the price that states should pay for not honouring their international legal obligations on climate change. As part of climate justice, there is a long-standing demand for climate reparations.

The rich countries have historically caused maximum greenhouse gas emissions. They should compensate developing countries that are disproportionately impacted by climate change.

They have sought the advisory opinion of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

ITLOS has been requested to determine the specific obligations of the countries under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea about preventing and reducing pollution of the marine environment. The challenges of ocean warming, sea level rise and ocean acidification are all linked to the marine environment.

What should be the approach of the international community towards the advisory jurisdiction of ICJ on climate change?

These advisory opinions are not a panacea. They may even turn out to be double edged swords depending on the kind of verdict delivered.

The role of international courts should be welcomed. Developed countries and groupings like the G­20 should support these laudable initiatives of the SID states.

Environment and climate sustainability are important themes of G­20. India, as the president of the G­20, should take a lead given its relentless emphasis on LiFE campaign.

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