Small island states hail 'historic' victory in UN climate case

The UN maritime court on Tuesday ruled in favour of nine small island states that brought a case to seek increased protection of the world’s oceans from catastrophic climate change.

Finding that carbon emissions can be considered a sea pollutant, the court said countries had an obligation to take measures to mitigate their effects on oceans.

The countries that brought the case called the court decision “historic”, and experts said it could be influential in shaping the scope of future climate litigation involving greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

“Anthropogenic GHG emissions into the atmosphere constitute pollution of the marine environment” under the international UNCLOS treaty, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) ruled in an expert opinion.

Polluting countries therefore have “the specific obligation to take all measures necessary to ensure that... emissions under their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage by pollution to other states and their environment”, the court said.

They asked the Hamburg-based court to issue an opinion on whether carbon dioxide emissions absorbed by the oceans could be considered pollution, and if so, what obligations countries had to address the problem.


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