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Island nations, often visualized as idyllic paradises, are now standing up on the global stage. Threatened by the rising seas and recurrent storms due to Climate change, a group of these countries has taken an unprecedented step. They are appearing before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg, Germany, with a plea: recognize excessive greenhouse gases as pollutants that breach international law.
Source: United Nations/YouTube
Why is this significant? If the tribunal acknowledges the islands’ request, it could pave the way for comprehensive claims for damages on a global scale.
The discussions, which were initiated this week and are set to span two weeks, revolve around the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. This convention, while crucial, doesn’t directly address greenhouse gas emissions or their consequences on ocean warming, acidification, and sea-level rise.
Representatives from over 50 countries, including major greenhouse gas emitters like China, India, and European Union members, have engaged in the debate. It’s a monumental occasion for the Oceans Court, as they’ve never deliberated on greenhouse gases and their impact on climate change.
Gaston Alfonso Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, highlighted the alarming rise in ocean temperatures. Kausea Natano, prime minister of Tuvalu, stressed the dire condition of his nation, indicating that they might become uninhabitable in a few decades.
The intent of these island nations is not to sue for damages but to obtain an advisory opinion on nations’ legal responsibilities to prevent oceanic damage. The crucial factor hinges on whether the tribunal will consider the widely accepted scientific data on the effects of greenhouse gases.
If the tribunal recognizes ocean warming as marine pollution, it could facilitate future proceedings for damage claims on the global platform. Experts also anticipate that such a decision could impact national jurisdictions, offering activists more grounds to challenge governments and corporations over climate-induced damages.
Island states face varied challenges: from infrastructural damages due to hurricanes in the Caribbean volcanic islands to loss of land and freshwater sources in low-lying Pacific atolls.
The tribunal’s ruling can potentially provide clarity on various oceanic impact queries, benefiting numerous countries worldwide. With the stakes so high, the world watches, waiting to see the ripple effect of this tribunal’s decision on global climate action.
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