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Tuesday June 18, 2024

Small island states win ‘historic’ climate case at UN court

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

By AFP
May 22, 2024
Payam Akhavan, lead counsel for the nine island nations, poses with other lawyers after The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg.— AFP/file
Payam Akhavan, lead counsel for the nine island nations, poses with other lawyers after The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg.— AFP/file

BERLIN: The UN maritime court on Tuesday ruled in favour of nine small island states that brought a case to seek increased protection of the world´s oceans from catastrophic climate change.

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.

“Anthropogenic GHG emissions into the atmosphere constitute pollution of the marine environment” under the international UNCLOS treaty, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) ruled in an expert opinion.

Polluting countries therefore have “the specific obligation to take all measures necessary to ensure that... emissions under their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage by pollution to other states and their environment”, the court said.

The case was brought in September by nine small countries disproportionately affected by climate change, including Antigua and Barbuda, Vanuatu and Tuvalu.

They asked the Hamburg-based court to issue an opinion on whether carbon dioxide emissions absorbed by the oceans could be considered pollution, and if so, what obligations countries had to address the problem.