“Where the Pacific goes in relation to addressing the imminent threat of climate change, or lack thereof, is where the rest of the world will follow. If the global community does not stand together to curb the threat of greenhouse gas emissions, Small Island Developing States will bear the brunt of extreme weather events,” Honourable Siromi Turaga, Attorney General of Fiji, shared this sentiment as he officially opened the Regional Writeshop for Pacific Island Submissions to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) Advisory Proceedings for Climate Change.
The historic ICJ Submission Writeshop is currently underway in Nadi with participation from Attorney Generals and Legal Office representatives from 16 Pacific Island Countries and Territories including: Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia (Tahiti), Kiribati, Republic of Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
Hon. Turaga while welcoming the Pacific delegates shared “It is my pleasure to welcome you to this unprecedented event for a historic case before the ICJ. I do not need to reiterate just how critical this case is for our region; without successful, urgent international climate cooperation, we are at the frontlines of some of the worst outcomes possible from the climate crisis.”
Hon. Turaga highlighted that “the opportunities this case brings our (Pacific) region means we must not shy away from demanding climate justice for all.”
The Regional Writeshop on Pacific Island Countries' Submissions to the ICJ Advisory Opinion on Climate Change is a crucial gathering aimed at facilitating the legal drafting process for Pacific Island governments. The objective is to support the
development and refinement of submissions to the ICJ, focusing on the obligation of states
to address climate change.
Hon. Arnold Kiel Loughman, Attorney General of the Republic of Vanuatu, as the main lead of the Writeshop and the ICJ work said this writeshop is one of its kind as it gathers all the AG’s and legal officers from around the region to work on national submissions to ICJ.
“We want to make sure the views and opinions of each government of the region is heard by the ICJ in relation to this advisory opinion towards climate change,” Hon. Loughman said.
He highlighted the Pacific Small Island Developing States have barriers when it comes to making submissions to the ICJ.
“We recognise that climate change is one of the existential threats facing us today that is why it is very important that we come together. We cannot do this individually. We must come together as a group and address this,” Hon. Loughman stated.
He highlighted that in phase 1, we all got together and with 132 strong vote and coalition, the resolution was passed.
“I think we take that same commitment we can take to phase 2 of this work as we prepare the Pacific submissions to the ICJ,” he said.
The Writeshop is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Governments of Australia and Sweden, and serves as a platform for legal experts, government officials, and stakeholders to come together and engage in collaborative legal drafting processes for national submissions to the ICJ.
Andrew Shepard, Acting Deputy High Commissioner from Australia to said, “Australia is very proud to join the Pacific family on co-sponsoring the Vanuatu led resolution seeking the ICJ Advisory opinion on climate change.”
He commended the Pacific's leadership in initiating this resolution, which has garnered support from over 130 countries.
He added that the widespread support indicates a shared responsibility among all states to take action on climate change and a shared commitment to doing so.
“The Pacific family is connected by strong, long-standing ties and the Australian government will continue to support a strong Pacific voice in global discussions on climate change in both regional and UN institutions. And it is by working together as a Pacific family, we can tackle our shared challenges,” Mr Shephard said.
Mr Michael Glees, Senior Development Advisor for USAID shared that “USAID is very proud to support this activity and this historic convening of all the attorney generals from around the Pacific.”
Mr Glees reiterated the words of the Attorney General of Fiji that the fate of the Pacific nation’s rests on climate justice outcomes.
“That is what I hope to see, that justice comes through for the Pacific when it comes to climate change in the international court,” Mr Glees added.
Erica Villborg from the government of Sweden shared “The links between environmentally and climate-resilient sustainable development and human rights, democracy and the rule of law are clear – especially for people in vulnerable situations and people living in poverty. Climate change knows no boarders, which implies that international cooperation is crucial”.
She added that Sweden appreciates the collaboration with and supports the important work that is being done by SPC and its People Centred Approach, placing people and their environment at the centre of development, planning, implementation, decisions, monitoring, and reporting.
Miles Young, Director of the Human Rights and Social Development Division of SPC said “SPC is humbled to be contributing to this Write Shop in preparation for the upcoming ICJ climate change advisory opinion proceedings, and we thank the Government of Vanuatu in particular and SPC membership more broadly, for affording us the opportunity to do so.”
He added that the Pacific has long been at the forefront of climate action. It also has – perhaps not as well known – a long history of addressing climate change through the lens of human rights.
“And through this ICJ initiative, Vanuatu and the Pacific will not just seek to spur transformative climate action and protect the environment for present and future generations in line with the climate change ambitions under the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific, but also reinforce the region as a global leader in the human rights and climate change nexus,” Young said.
The Writeshop will conclude on 26 July, 2023.
Background to ICJ Opinion on Climate Change
The UN General Assembly on 29 March 2023 adopted by consensus a resolution requesting an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the obligations of States in respect of climate change, with most speakers hailing the move as a milestone in their decades-long struggle for climate justice.
The International Court of Justice is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations,
entrusted with settling legal disputes between states. Recognizing the urgent global issue of
climate change and its devastating impacts on vulnerable nations, the General Assembly
sought an Advisory Opinion from the ICJ in March this year. This opinion aims to clarify the legal obligations of states in addressing climate change and its consequences, particularly regarding the rights and interests of vulnerable nations.
This Pacific-led resolution has been hailed as a “turning point in climate justice” and a victory for the Pacific youth who spearheaded the campaign. That was based on draft text put forward by the tiny Pacific nation of Vanuatu.
Significantly, this resolution was co-sponsored by 132 states, including Australia. It’s the first time the General Assembly has requested an advisory opinion from the ICJ with unanimous state support.