Small Island States Win Sea Levels Change Case In UN Maritime Court, But Doubtful If China And USA Will Comply On Greenhouse Gases.

Photo: Pixabay. Melting glaciers at high latitudes lead to rising sea leves, climate experts say.
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The UN maritime court on Tuesday ruled in favour of nine small island states including Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, and St. Kitts and Nevis that brought a case to seek increased protection of the world’s oceans from catastrophic climate change and rising sea levels.

The court was ruling on the International Convention on the Law of the Sea, a treaty that has never been ratified by the US.

Finding that carbon emissions can be considered a sea pollutant, the court said countries had an obligation to take measures to mitigate their effects on oceans.

The countries that brought the case called the court decision “historic”, and experts said it could be influential in shaping the scope of future climate litigation involving greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

In its first climate-related judgment, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, or ITLOS, said that greenhouse gas emissions absorbed by the ocean are considered marine pollution and countries are obliged to protect marine environments by going further than required under the Paris climate agreement.


The opinion is not legally binding on nations, but it can be used to help guide countries in their climate policy and, in other cases, as legal precedent.

The prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, said small island nations were “fighting for their survival”.

“Some will become uninhabitable in the near future because of the failure to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. We demand that the major polluters respect international law, and stop the catastrophic harm against us before it is too late,” he said.

“The ITLOS opinion will inform our future legal and diplomatic work in putting an end to inaction that has brought us to the brink of an irreversible disaster.”

The other nations in the group that brought the case were Tuvalu, Palau, Niue, Vanuatu, St.Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The court said states are legally obligated to take all necessary measures to achieve the goal of keeping global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius above preindustrial levels according to the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Seas.

In the case hearings in September, China, the world’s biggest carbon polluter, had challenged the islands’ request, arguing that the tribunal does not have general authority to issue advisory opinions. Beijing said its position was taken to avoid the fragmentation of international law.

“If ITLOS were to find that such an obligation exists, Beijing’s response would most likely be to characterize this as falling outside of its proper scope of authority,” said Ryan Martinez Mitchell, law professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Eselealofa Apinelu, a representative of the South Pacific island of Tuvalu, said the advisory opinion spells out the legally binding obligations of all states to protect the marine environment and the states against the existential threats posed by climate change.

“This is a historic moment for small island developing nations in their request for climate justice, an important first step in holding the major polluters accountable, for the sake of all humankind,” Apinelu said.

Climate activists and lawyers said the decision could also influence two upcoming legal opinions by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights and the International Court of Justice, which are also considering states’ climate obligations.

Last month, the European Court of Human Rights issued a historic ruling in favor of plaintiffs who argued that Switzerland was violating their human rights by not doing enough to combat climate warming.

“Now we have clarity on what states are obligated to do, which they have failed to do through 30 years … but this is the opening chapter,” Payam Akhavan, lead counsel for the nine island nations in the proceedings, said of the ITLOS opinion, adding that the next step was to ensure that major polluters would implement their obligations.

Sources: VOA. Reuters, Barrons, E&E news.
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