UN adopts landmark resolution on climate justice

It applies particularly to vulnerable, poorer nations, including low-lying island states, who are the most threatened by more intense storms and rising sea levels.

Nirmal Ghosh and David Fogarty

Nirmal Ghosh and David Fogarty

The Straits Times


Vanuatu Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau delivers a speech before the UN General Assembly in New York, on March 29, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS

March 30, 2023

SINGAPORE – The United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday adopted a resolution by the tiny Pacific nation of Vanuatu to ask the world’s top court to consider the question of climate-related violations of human rights by nations and corporations.

The resolution, backed by a slew of states including Singapore, and adopted by consensus – that is, without a vote – asks the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to look into the obligations of big polluters to consider the human rights of those affected by the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions.

It applies particularly to vulnerable, poorer nations including low-lying island states, who, although they are among the least responsible for the crisis, are the most threatened by more intense storms and rising sea levels.

Decades of burning fossil fuels and deforestation are the main sources of emissions heating up the planet, driving extreme weather events and melting ice caps.

The adoption was greeted by a burst of applause in the General Assembly, and widely hailed by analysts and advocacy groups.

“This is a milestone moment,” said the Climate Action Network (CAN), which comprises over 1,900 civil society organisations in over 130 countries. An advisory opinion from the ICJ would be a first for the Court on the issue of climate change, it noted.

If the ICJ does, as expected, take up the question of rights and climate change, it could take a year or more for an advisory opinion to be handed down.

Such a ruling would provide much stronger moral and political weight to the question of state responsibility for carbon pollution – in turn providing a foundation for future rights-based climate litigation by nations or groups.

Singapore’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Mr Burhan Gafoor, tweeted: “A historic resolution adopted by consensus; a big step for climate action, a strong boost for international law, and a resounding reaffirmation of multilateralism.”

“Singapore is proud to be part of (the) Core Group that led this initiative,” he added.

Singapore was among the 18 core supporting nations.

In a statement in the chamber after the adoption of the resolution, Ambassador Gafoor said: “Singapore is confident that the resolution will result in an advisory opinion that will advance our collective multilateral and rules-based efforts to address climate change.”

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