World's most 'at-risk' country Vanuatu seeks climate justice at UN court

The Nation  |  Dec 09, 2022

Vanuatu, a carbon-negative country and yet one of the most vulnerable nations to climate change, has rolled up its sleeves to seek "climate justice" at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The tiny island nation in the South Pacific Ocean has circulated a draft resolution with 17 other countries at the United Nations General Assembly asking the world court to take a stance on protecting vulnerable nations from climate change.

Vanuatu is the world's most at-risk country for natural hazards, according to a UN University World Risk Index.

"Every year, we are affected by natural disasters, and the severity increases because of climate change," Vanuatu's Ambassador to the UN, Odo Tevi, told Anadolu Agency in an interview.

The country was hit by Category 5 cyclones in 2015 and 2021, which affected 60% of its GDP, Tevi said, adding that "it is huge for a small economy like Vanuatu."

"Old people in my country say that they've never witnessed Category 5 cyclones that severe, so it shows that climate change is real."

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"Flooding affects infrastructure -- bridges, roads. Every year, we have to rebuild our economy... Our economies are like broken glasses," he said.

Facing rising sea levels, Vanuatu is vulnerable to coastal erosion.

"When I was a little boy, we used to have pigs in certain areas, but now they're all covered by the sea. So that's the challenge that we're facing by climate change," he said.

He said Vanuatu has relocated its citizens from some islands to the mountainous mainland due to rising sea levels, adding it is a major challenge for its low-lying neighbors in the Pacific such as Tuvalu.

Climate justice

Vanuatu and 17 other countries are calling for a UN resolution seeking an advisory opinion from the ICJ to clarify what responsibilities governments have to protect future generations from climate change.

The resolution is expected to be voted on in the 193-member UN General Assembly early next year, and Vanuatu's campaign has gained support from around 100 countries.

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The world is falling short of limiting global warming to 1.5C (2.7F), Tevi said.

"We need protection and especially international law. It's an important tool, though it's not the silver bullet, it's not going to resolve climate change. But it's going to be a tool that can be used and can be referred to," he said.

While the ICJ has no binding authority, its advisory opinion could strengthen the positions of vulnerable countries in international negotiations and could define climate change as a human rights issue.

He said the "loss and damage" fund adopted at the recent COP27 climate summit in Egypt for poor nations impacted by climate change was a "baby step" but a "good start."

"We know climate change is not an easy subject, because it's highly politicized. It's political. We live in a polarized world, so it's not going to be easy," he said.

"The next step is more and more countries that are responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions have to ramp up their ambition and provide more funds to the loss and damage facility."

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