CLA News / CLA participation in The International Court of Justice climate change case


CLA members have had the opportunity to participate in the world court’s current consideration of the liability of countries for damage caused by climate change.

In March 2023, the United Nations General Assembly adopted by consensus a resolution requesting an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the Obligations of States in respect of Climate Change. The initiative for this resolution was spearheaded by Vanuatu, after impetus from grassroots youth groups in the Pacific. The questions referred to the ICJ focus on the obligations of States under international law with respect to climate change, with an emphasis on human rights, intergenerational equity and the impact on small island developing states.

The case has garnered enormous attention with a record 91 written submissions filed in March 2024 by States and international intergovernmental organisations, the highest ever in advisory proceedings before the Court. CLA filed its written statement as an international non-government organisation. The CLA statement is now available at the Peace Palace in The Hague and forms part of “publications readily available” to all parties.

CLA’s comprehensive submissions were prepared by a working group of the Climate Justice Committee. Led by Climate Justice Committee Co-Convenor Fiona Ey (Samoa), the working group included committee members Vyonna Bondi (Kenya), Fiona McLeod SC (Australia), Melinda Janki (Guyana) and Maximilian Taylor (UK). The collaborative drafting process drew together diverse expertise from across the Commonwealth. The submission represents a strong statement from the organisation’s membership about climate justice and the intersection of human rights and international climate change law.

A copy of the CLA written statement is available on the CLA website

In the next stage of the ICJ proceedings, parties will file a second round of submissions in response to those filed. Oral proceedings may then follow before the Court deliberates.

The outcomes of the ICJ case may include an authoritative determination of the validity of current climate science and the need to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to keep below the Paris Agreement threshold of 1.5 degrees. The decision may also expressly link the goals and obligations of the Paris Agreement with various international human rights instruments, resulting in a conclusion that States have a clear obligation to ensure their GHG emissions do not cause significant harm to others.

The ICJ case adds to further current advisory opinion cases on climate change before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. All three cases represent significant advances to clarify how climate change impacts human rights while also identifying States’ human rights obligations in the context of climate change.

While ICJ advisory opinions do not have binding legal force, they carry great weight and moral authority as statements of the main judicial organ of the United Nations. They also operate as normative statements that influence international climate negotiations and help catalyse much-needed action.

Fiona Ey

Co-Convener, the CLA Climate Justice Committee and CLA Council member for Samoa