In a historic vote, the United Nations General Assembly has adopted a landmark resolution that will make it easier to hold polluting countries accountable for their failures to protect the planet. 

Proposed by the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu and voted on by 132 UN countries, the landmark resolution aims to bring in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to garner its opinion on whether there are legal obligations for nations to protect the planet and the people most affected by climate change.

"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.”

“Young people across the world will recall the day when we were able to get the world’s highest court, the international court of justice, to bring its voice to the climate justice fight,” campaign director of Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change (PISFCC), Solomon Yeo said. 

The achievement of this historic climate justice resolution comes just after the latest release of the annual Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which delivered rather bleak news on the world’s progress to ending the climate crisis and made the urgency to phase out fossil fuels abundantly clear. 

Bringing in the ICJ to weigh in on climate justice obligations could not have happened sooner. Here’s what you need to know about the landmark resolution and what it means for the fight against the climate crisis.

What Is This Historic Resolution and Why Is it Important? 

Holding countries to account for the damage they’ve caused the planet is essential for us to be able to tackle climate change head-on, yet there has so far been little accountability on the part of polluting nations to fulfill their obligations to protecting the planet.

The resolution aims to change that, by bringing in the ICJ to issue an opinion on what a country’s obligations are when it comes to defending the planet. The court will also advise on consequences that countries should face should they fail to oblige. The ICJ is the United Nations’ judicial system; similar to how all countries have courts and judges, the ICJ is a judicial system (also known as the World Court), and weighs in on legal issues that affect the whole world.

While the decisions and opinions of the ICJ are not legally binding, the court itself holds global power sufficient to encourage nations to consider their failures and their obligations when it comes to upholding promises made to the planet. With this resolution, nations have to submit what their plans are to achieving the Paris Agreement to the UN, so that they may be held accountable to those plans.

The resolution is a huge win in the name of reparations for climate change loss and damage, particularly for Global South countries that have contributed little to the climate crisis and yet are experiencing the worst of its impacts. The agreement was made at the world’s very first discussion surrounding a loss and damage funding facility aimed at compensating countries that have experienced the irreversible damage that comes from climate change-related extreme weather events. 

Vanuatu itself, the country that put forward the resolution, has faced some of the worst ramifications of the climate crisis; just last month the small island nation was hit by two category 4 cyclones within 72 hours of each other

Who Are the Key Players in This? 

The whole world should be thanking student activists who form the PISFCC for their championing of this resolution. Basically, a collective of law students across eight Pacific island nations came together to found the PISFCC. Not long after its founding, they began their campaign towards getting their countries’ leaders to take the proposed resolution to the World Court. 

Thankfully, leaders of the Pacific island nations headed this call, and led by Vanuatu, proposed the resolution to the UN for it to now be agreed upon. 

President of the PISFCC, Cynthia Houniuhi said of the proposal: “I don’t want to show a picture to my child one day of my island. I want my child to be able to experience the same environment and the same culture that I grew up in… The environment that sustains us is disintegrating before our eyes.”

What Action Can We All Take? 

The climate crisis is far from over, and while this is a huge win for climate justice, we still need to work collectively to tackle the crisis and defend the planet. Join Global Citizens around the world on our app or website and take climate-related actions that urge world and business leaders to step up in the fight against climate change once and for all. 

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UN Adopts Historic Resolution in Win for Climate Justice of ‘Epic Proportions’