Vol. 42 No. 3 (2023): The University of Queensland Law Journal
Articles (Special Issue)

Vanuatu Leads Drive to Secure an Opinion from the International Court of Justice on State Responsibilities to Turn Words into Action on Climate Change

Sue Farran
Newcastle University

Published 2023-11-11


In 2022, the Pacific-island State of Vanuatu declared a climate emergency. Though it is not the first nation to do so, the difference is that Vanuatu has been instrumental in getting the United Nations General Assembly ('UNGA’) to refer the issue of climate change to the International Court of Justice (‘ICJ’) for an Opinion. The intention to do this was first mooted by a civil organisation of young people: ‘The Pacific Island Students Fighting Climate Change’. The proposal gathered momentum with an alliance of civil society actors and subsequently other states supporting and co-sponsoring the resolution passed by UNGA. The Paris Agreement and Paris Rulebook are steps forward but need implementation. A legal framing of international obligations could advance this. While an ICJ opinion would have no legally binding effect, it could nevertheless be of some practical benefit in a context where there is increasing recognition of the link between existing human rights and the environment and growing demand — particularly by those most adversely affected — for translating promises into action. This article considers the imperatives behind this call to the ICJ, the potential challenges that may be raised before the Court, and the possible outcomes for this initiative.