UN General Assembly adopts resolution to request an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on climate change

In a historic step towards climate justice, the UN General Assembly has adopted a resolution to ask the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for an advisory opinion on climate change. The adoption of the resolution is the culmination of a three-year effort by the Republic of Vanuatu to bring the question of climate change before the world’s highest court.

Jennifer Robinson acts for the Republic of Vanuatu. She is instructed by Julian Aguon and Margaretha Wewerinke-Singh of Blue Ocean Law, an international firm in Guam. The counsel team also includes Pierre-Marie Dupuy, Emeritus Professor at Panthéon-Assas University, Lavanya Rajamani, Professor of International Environmental Law at Oxford University and Jorge Viñuales, Harold Samuel Professor of Law and Environmental Policy at Cambridge University.

“Today we have witnessed a win for climate justice of epic proportions,” said Ishmael Kalsakau, Prime Minister of Vanuatu. “Today’s historic resolution is the beginning of a new era in multilateral climate cooperation, one that is more fully focused on upholding the rule of international law and an era that places human rights and intergenerational equity at the forefront of climate decision-making.”

The newly adopted resolution asks the ICJ to clarify the duties of states to protect the climate system and the rights of present and future generations from climate-induced harms, as well as the legal consequences for states that have caused significant climate harm to the planet and its most vulnerable communities.

By providing a clear and authoritative statement of what international law requires, an ICJ advisory opinion on climate change could help to foster global ambition, facilitate international climate negotiations, and provide an important touchstone for future international and domestic climate justice efforts.

Vanuatu, a small island state in the Pacific, suffers more extreme weather events as a result of climate change and has taken the lead in the movement for climate action and climate justice.

“As one of the most vulnerable nations in the world, Vanuatu is fighting for the future of our people,” said Vanuatu Minister for Climate Change, Ralph Regenvanu. “The adoption of this resolution is a significant step toward a better future for our people and for the planet, and we couldn’t have done it without the amazing team at Blue Ocean Law.”

The adoption of the resolution has been widely covered in the international media.

See, for example, here and here.


The question to be put before the International Court of Justice:

Having particular regard to the Charter of the United Nations, the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris Agreement, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the duty of due diligence, the rights recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the principle of prevention of significant harm to the environment, and the duty to protect and preserve the marine environment,

(1) What are the obligations of States under international law to ensure the protection of the climate system and other parts of the environment from anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases for States and for present and future generations;

(2) What are the legal consequences under these obligations for States where they, by their acts and omissions, have caused significant harm to the climate system and other parts of the environment, with respect to:

(a) States, including, in particular, small island developing States, which due to their geographical circumstances and level of development, are injured or specially affected by or are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change?

(b) Peoples and individuals of the present and future generations affected by the adverse effects of climate change?”