Pacific nations explore opportunities to push for fossil fuel phase out

Photo: Ministry of Finance, Tuvalu

A yes vote at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) later this month to Vanuatu’s request for Advisory Opinion (AO) from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the obligations of States in respect of climate change – will be an opportunity for Pacific nations to advocate for the phase out of fossil fuels in their submission to support to ICJ to support Vanuatu’s AO request. 

After the vote is taken in New York, UN Members States are given time to make submission to the ICJ for its consideration before a ruling is made – a process which is likely to take two years. 

“Let’s assume that on 29 March, the resolution is passed by the UN General Assembly. Then it goes to the International Court of Justice to answer the questions. And here is when it gets really exciting! It will ask State Parties to provide feedback on the questions.  

“This is an opportunity for each Pacific nation in this room and across the Pacific to come with very strong submissions about what it is they expect countries to do that address this climate crisis, said Vanuatu’s head of climate diplomacy programme, Dr Chris Bartlett. 

“I hope we can strategise and bring fossil fuel acts and emissions into those submissions to the ICJ and make it clear that any expansion on fossil fuel production breaches obligations in human rights, in environment, in law, in climate etc. 

Dr Bartlett said Vanuatu will bring together best international lawyers in the world to help craft the submissions. 

“It will take about two years for that process to pan out – but we can use the process in our climate negotiations at COP28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates to push for certain language on fossil fuels to be included. 

Vanuatu Climate Change Minister, Ralph Regenvanu acknowledged Pacific countries that co-sponsored the UNGA resolution – while chairing a ministerial dialogue on just transition pathway away from fossil fuels underway in Port Vila. 

Minister Regenvanu informed Ministers that 115 Member States of the United Nations have endorsed Vanuatu’s initiative – which was a campaign started by law students at the University of the South Pacific’s Emalus Campus. 

“It’s exciting for the Pacific and strengthens the case for global action on fossil fuels. 

According to UNGA Agenda 70 of the upcoming 77th Session – 14 Pacific Island Countries co-sponsored Vanuatu’s ICJAO resolution

These Pacific island nations as listed in the UNGA report include Australia, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. 

Tuvalu and Antigua Barbuda in the Caribbean have also sponsored a similar initiative, requesting an Advisory Opinion (AO) from the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea. 

Tuvalu’s Minister of Finance, Seve Paeniu confirmed the two countries have filed an application seeking an Advisory Opinion from the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea on States obligations under the convention to preserve and protect the marine environment.  

There is a time limit for State Parties to the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to make submissions. 

“The due date is 16 May but I see that it has been extended for another month to June. What we would like to get is for the Pacific and Small Island Developing States to have a common representation. We have a template document that member states can be provided to ensure common representation from member states regarding this issue. 

Minister Paeniu said the International Tribunal will provide its ruling in September this year based on Tuvalu and Antigua and Barbuda’s joint application and representations from State Parties. 

Pacific countries present at the three-day ministerial dialogue in Vanuatu have commended and lent their support to Vanuatu and Tuvalu for taking these global initiatives that will benefit all small island developing states.