Vanuatu’s Triumph at the UN: A Major Stride in International Climate Law

Vanuatu’s Triumph at the UN: A Major Stride in International Climate Law

On the 21st of May, 2024, Vanuatu marked a significant achievement in the global effort against climate change. The United Nations General Assembly unanimously endorsed Vanuatu’s proposal to request an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) concerning the responsibilities of nations towards climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The Influence of an Advisory Opinion

The ICJ, located in The Hague, not only resolves disputes between states but also provides advisory opinions which clarify the implications of existing international treaties on contemporary issues. While these opinions are not directly enforceable, they wield considerable influence over national legal systems and governmental policies, thereby shaping future legal precedents.

During the General Assembly session, UN Secretary-General António Guterres outlined the potential benefits of the advisory opinion: “Such an opinion will guide the General Assembly, the entire UN framework, and its member states towards adopting more assertive and impactful climate measures that are urgently needed globally”.

The Determined Campaign of Vanuatu

Vanuatu’s climate change minister, Ralph Regenvanu, underlined the vital nature of this campaign for his nation: “Our very survival hinges on this. While our individual impact might be limited economically or politically, our membership in the UN empowers us to advocate for global change.”

Significantly, major global emitters such as the United States and China, did not obstruct the proposal. Both nations have been keen to extend their influence in the Pacific, where smaller nations like Vanuatu have been strategic players despite their modest economies and populations.

The roots of this campaign can be traced back to a classroom at the University of the South Pacific in Fiji, where law students realised the potential impact of an ICJ advisory opinion to drive forward climate justice.

Historical Verdict by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS)

In an equally pivotal development on May 22, 2024, nine small island nations, including Vanuatu, achieved a historic victory at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). The tribunal acknowledged that state obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to prevent marine pollution also pertain to greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to harmful changes in oceanic and atmospheric conditions.

This precedent-setting opinion by ITLOS marks the first instance where the tribunal has addressed climate change and oceanic health, involving nations such as Antigua and Barbuda, Niue, Palau, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu.


  1. UN General Assembly unanimously supports Vanuatu’s appeal for ICJ advisory opinion on climate obligations
  2. ITLOS declares greenhouse gases as marine pollutants
  3. Vanuatu’s climate change minister emphasizes the significance of the ICJ advisory opinion for the nation’s survival
  4. Victory for nine small island states at ITLOS in a landmark climate ruling

These landmark decisions at the UN General Assembly and ITLOS represent pivotal advancements in international climate law, providing a basis for further legal challenges and encouraging governments and judiciary systems worldwide to adopt more stringent measures against major polluters.

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Category / Vanuatu Citizenship


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