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Island States Seek Climate Protection from Law of the Sea at International Court

The prime ministers of two small island nations, Tuvalu and Antigua and Barbuda, are scheduled to appear at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg, Germany on Monday.

They will seek an advisory opinion on the obligations of countries to combat climate change. The tribunal will consider whether carbon emissions absorbed by the ocean should be considered marine pollution and what obligations nations have to protect the marine environment. The prime ministers, representing the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (COSIS), will argue that countries have an obligation to protect the marine environment under the UN convention on the Law of the Sea, including from greenhouse gas emissions.

The tribunal will issue an advisory opinion, which is not legally binding but offers an authoritative statement on legal matters that could guide countries as they craft climate protection law. Tuvalu’s Natano said, “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.”

Excessive carbon pollution results in damage to oceans, including coral bleaching and acidification. Low-lying island states like Tuvalu and Vanuatu are also at risk of becoming submerged by water by the end of the century due to slow-onset climate impacts. Small island nations have also sought legal clarity on nations’ climate obligations in other courts.

For instance, Vanuatu led a campaign to ask the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to issue an advisory opinion on countries’ obligations to address climate change. The UN General Assembly referred the case to ICJ in March.

A writer at Parallel Facts