International Tribunal rules in favour of small island states, declares greenhouse gas emissions as marine pollution

International Tribunal rules in favour of small island states, declares greenhouse gas emissions as marine pollution

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In a revolutionary decision, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), while passing its first ever climate-related judgment stated that emissions from fossil fuels and other greenhouse gases that are absorbed by oceans would be considered as marine pollutants. Earlier this week, the court ruled in favour of nine small island states.

The court ruling highlighted that all signatories to a United Nations agreement on marine activities must put in more efforts to protect the world’s oceans from climate change. The ruling, an “advisory opinion” was made noting the threats faced by small island states by the rise in sea levels that have occurred due to global warming.

The nine island nations that brought the case include Antigua and Barbuda, Niue, Palau, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu have called the court’s decision as “historic”.

ITLOS further opined that the countries should go beyond the requirements of the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement to save the aquatic environment and also the states that depend on it.

The countries that brought in the case last year have experienced two Category 4 storms within 24 hours. They asked the court to clarify what was considered marine pollution under the convention.

Amid rising oceans, soaring ocean temperatures and ocean acidification caused by fossil fuels and other greenhouse gas emissions the small island states gathered and filed the case in September 2023. The case was brought by the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (COSIS) on behalf of the nine countries.

The COSIS appreciated the ruling by the world court and called it “tremendous legal victory”. The history has been made by the court for delivering the first ever advisory opinion on climate change and oceans, COSIS further said.

Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda- Gaston Browne stated small island nations were “fighting for their survival”. He further added that few islands might not be able to survive in future due to their inability to fight against greenhouse gas emissions. PM also demanded that the major polluters should respect international law, and stop the catastrophic harm against the small island states before it is too late.

This decision is expected to influence future climate cases in international courts.

“The ITLOS opinion will inform our future legal and diplomatic work in putting an end to inaction that has brought us to the brink of an irreversible disaster,” said Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne.

Nikki Reisch, director at the Centre for International Environmental Law, said “To those that would hide behind the weaknesses of international climate treaties, this opinion makes clear that compliance with the Paris Agreement alone is not enough.”