Court Declares Greenhouse Gases Marine Pollution, Sets Climate Action Precedent

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On May 21, 2024, a worldwide maritime court discovered that greenhouse gases are a significant contributor to marine pollution. This is a breakthrough for small island states that are threatened by the increasing sea levels brought about by global warming, reports Marine Insight.

Global Warming

In its first climate-specific judgment, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea stated that emissions from fossil fuels and other Earth-warming gases absorbed by the oceans are to be counted as marine pollution.

Its ruling goes as follows — an “advisory opinion” that should nevertheless offer a precedent for cases elsewhere — also said that the nations need to go beyond the needs of the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement to safeguard the marine environment and the states that are dependent on it.

Per Cheryl Bazard, the ambassador of the European Union of the Bahamas (one of the nine Caribbean and Pacific island nations seeking this opinion), the law and science coincided in the tribunal, and both emerged as winners.

The court mentioned that states are legally obligated to supervise and minimize emissions that cause climate change.

It also laid out the specific demands for environmental impact assessments.

It said states’ targets for lowering greenhouse emissions must be objectively set based on the most appropriate and available science and relevant international rules and standards, setting the bar even higher than the Paris Agreement.

The ruling is going to shape future cases.

The ITLOS opinion will inform future legal and diplomatic activities in ending inactions that have brought the world to the brink of such an irreversible disaster, stated Antigua and Barbuda PM Gaston Browne.

Nikki Reisch, the director of the Centre for International Environmental Law, added that to the ones that would conceal the inadequacies of international climate treaties, the opinion makes it clear that compliance with the Paris Agreement is inadequate.

Lawyers and climate activists stated that this decision could heavily influence two views on the states’ climate obligations pending from the Inter-American Court on Human Rights and the International Court of Justice.

A similar and prospective precedent was established last month when the European Court of Human Rights sided with plaintiffs who contended that Switzerland was infringing on their human rights by failing to do enough to prevent climate change.

Eselealofa Apinelu, representing the South Pacific island of Tuvalu, mentioned that Tuesday’s opinion made it clear that states were legally bound to safeguard the marine environment and other states from the existential threats of climate change.

He referred to it as a primary step in holding the major polluters responsible.

However, the road to concerted worldwide action is far from seamless.

China, the greatest carbon polluter in the world, argued at the court that this tribunal did not have the general authority to issue advisory opinions, adding that these could fragment international law.

The Chinese foreign ministry was not readily available for comments.

The other nations in the group that brought the case were Palau, St.Lucia, St. Vincent, Niue, Vanuatu, Grenadines, St. Kitts, and Nevis.

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Source: Marine Insight