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Small Islands Demand Action at Maritime Court

Small Islands Demand Action at Maritime Court

In a pivotal meeting held in Hamburg, the leaders of small island nations united to emphasize the urgency of addressing climate change’s impact on our oceans. Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda, speaking at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), urged the need for “legally binding obligations” to safeguard the marine environment rather than hollow promises.

Small Islands’ Coalition Grows

Antigua and Barbuda, in collaboration with Tuvalu, formed the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (COSIS) in 2021. Since then, this alliance has expanded to include Palau, Niue, Vanuatu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and the Bahamas. Together, they have sought the ITLOS’s formal opinion on the responsibilities of states in addressing climate change under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Demanding Action, Not Promises

During the initial oral hearings, Prime Minister Kausea Natano of Tuvalu expressed frustration over the lack of substantial measures to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions in previous climate negotiations. He emphasized that the absence of political will endangers humanity and is particularly unacceptable for small island states already facing existential threats.

Prime Minister Browne echoed these sentiments, stressing the need for the ITLOS to take a decisive stance in addressing climate change. He urged an end to “endless negotiations and empty promises” and called for international law to play a central role in tackling this crisis.

Influential Opinion and Global Impact

COSIS members anticipate that a strong opinion from the ITLOS could encourage governments to take more robust action against climate change. Although not legally binding, this opinion may serve as the basis for future legal actions.

While the ITLOS may not be as prominent as the International Court of Justice, it is expected to reach a conclusion more quickly, possibly within the next year. Experts suggest that its opinion could influence other courts, including the International Court of Justice and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Thirty states, including the EU, submitted written statements to the ITLOS, with China being the sole entity to challenge the tribunal’s jurisdiction. The UK expressed some concerns but did not dispute the tribunal’s jurisdiction.

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Debating State Obligations

Although there is a general consensus among states that greenhouse gas emissions harm the marine environment, there is disagreement regarding the extent of required action. COSIS emphasizes the need for stringent measures in line with the science that calls for limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

While some nations argue that the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement already address these issues adequately, COSIS contends that the law of the sea obliges states to take comprehensive actions to prevent, reduce, and control marine pollution. Experts at the tribunal underlined how climate change is already impacting oceans and the urgent need to align international obligations with scientific realities.

Naza Nazeem
Author: Naza Nazeem

Content writer and marketer experienced in media, hospitality, and technology.

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