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International courts and climate change


  • Vanuatu’s initiative of seeking an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice.


  • A group of sixteen countries has launched an effort to tackle the issue of climate change at the United Nations.
  • The group is led by Vanuatu and seeks an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on climate change.
  • Notably, ICJ’s advisory opinions are non-binding. However, they carry a normative weight and clarify international laws.

Initiative by Vanuatu:

  • Despite several international agreements on climate change like the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Kyoto Protocol, and the Paris Agreement, the international community has not delivered enough solutions for climate change.
  • Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like Vanuatu are at relatively higher risk due to rising sea levels and increasing temperatures.
  • Vanuatu launched an initiative on September 2021 through UNGA to seek an advisory opinion from ICJ on the “legal obligations of all countries to prevent and redress the adverse effects of climate change”.
  • More than 100 countries have backed Vanuatu in its initiative.

The draft resolution seeks answers on the following aspects:

  • International obligations of countries for the protection of the climate from anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases.
  • It is suggested by some scholars that ICJ can also use general and customary international law (CIL) to fill the gaps in these treaties.
  • Thus, it can use the ‘no harm’ principle (an important part of CIL) to highlight equivocal provisions of the Paris Agreement.
  • As per the ‘no harm’ principle states are under an obligation that activities within their jurisdiction do not damage other countries.
  • It would seek answers on the legal consequences for countries that have caused significant harm to the climate and the SIDS.
  • The resolution further demands clarification on climate reparations, which is a long-standing demand in direction of climate justice.

Other measures for climate justice:

  • The Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (including countries like Antigua, Barbuda, and Tuvalu) has also sought the advisory opinion of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).
  • ITLOS is requested to determine the obligations of the countries for preventing, controlling, and reducing marine pollution under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).


  • Nations across the world and international groupings like G20 should support the efforts of Small Island Developing States. India should also use the opportunity of the G20 Presidency to lay relentless emphasis on the LiFE campaign.