Mar 29, 2023 - Energy & Environment

UN sends question of countries' climate responsibilities to The Hague

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Photo: Xie E/Xinhua via Getty

In a landmark though limited move, the UN General Assembly voted Wednesday to seek an advisory opinion on climate change from the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

Why it matters: The resolution, sponsored by the climate-vulnerable nation of Vanuatu, could establish countries' obligations to act on climate change.

Zoom in: In a speech on Wednesday backing Vanuatu's effort to pass the resolution, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said: "Advisory opinions can provide much-needed clarification on existing international legal obligations."

  • "If and when given, such an opinion would assist the General Assembly, the UN and member states to take the bolder and stronger climate action that our world so desperately needs," he added.
  • Speaking on behalf of a group of Pacific island countries, Tonga's UN representative called this a "historic" day for climate-vulnerable countries.

Yes, but: The advisory opinion would be non-binding.

  • Still, it could still be cited in U.S. court cases on climate change, such as lawsuits against fossil fuel companies for contributing to the problem.
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