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Law students push for urgent advisory opinion as climate fight gains momentum
00:27 am GMT+12, 09/08/2019, Fiji

By Jared Koli
A group of law students from the region is calling on Pacific leaders to seek urgent advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ)on the issue of human rights and climate change as the fight to reduce carbon emissions and global warming continues on a global scale.
The Pacific Islands Students Fighting Climate Change (PISFCC) group received strong support towards its climate justice initiative, garnering as many as 5000 signatures calling on Pacific leaders to consider their proposal to raise the matter at the UN General Assembly and subsequently at the International Court of Justice.
The group’s president, Solomon Yeo, said separate letters seeking support for the initiative were sent to the leaders of Australia and New Zealand while their proposal had been scheduled for discussion at the upcoming Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Leaders Meeting in Tuvalu on 13 August.   
“The campaign is going very well. Our primary objective is scheduled for discussion at the PIF Leaders Meeting. We hope Pacific Island leaders will at least consider our proposal,” said Yeo, whose organization comes under the Climate Action Network, an umbrella group of environmental non-governmental organisations active on the issue of climate change.
Yeo was also a signatory in a letter addressed to PIF leaders calling for urgent climate action.
“Firstly, climate change is threatening our fundamental human rights under international law, and secondly, we as Pacific Islanders must do everything we can to fight global carbon emissions,” the letter read.
“Twenty-seven years of negotiations and all we could come up is with Paris Agreement? It’s not enough; we need to have more ambitious targets.
“It is important that we stop pursuing stalemate conferences and start pursuing new avenues. With International Court of Justice advisory opinion, we want more effective and even better, drastic actions taken on the issue of climate change crisis we are all experiencing.”
Environmental Defenders NSW, not-for-profit non-government community legal centre in Australia specialising in public interest environmental law, believes the International Court of Justice has a vital part in the climate fight.
The organisation’s chief executive officer  and solicitor, David Morris, said as the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, the ICJ had a role to play in determining liability as well as the action that states should be taking to avert climate breakdown under international law.
“An advisory opinion by the ICJ will not be binding on any state, but it will authoritatively set out what is the responsibility of states under international law which will undoubtedly impact domestic politics and law and international co-operation,” Morris said.
He said it was important that any reference to the ICJ would be to ask what legal obligations existed under international laws so that the ICJ could consider all international legal obligations, not just those existing under the Paris Agreement.   
“Moreover, it is an additional forum for Pacific States to seek to be heard and to make their case, not only on the need for urgent action, but to safeguard their ongoing existence as states under international law.  
“A case is important from an educative point of view to bring attention to the plight of Pacific Islands which are at the frontline of climate change.”
Solomon Islands Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, and Disaster Management permanent secretary Dr Melchior Mataki said leaders were generally supportive of citizen-driven efforts to combat climate change.
He said the initiative would be supported if it was channelled properly in a timely manner.
“The urgency of the need to take transformative actions cannot be delayed anymore and especially by major emitters. More importantly as Pacific Islanders, our way of life, our cultures, our islands and economies are already negatively impacted by climate change,” Dr Mataki said.
“The latest science is clear that if global action is not swift and transformative; the negative impacts of climate change will increase and become irreversible.”
He said the fight against climate change could not be left to national governments alone through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) processes because the root causes of climate change were embedded in development choices and pathways taken by governments, the private sector and the global community.
“The impacts of climate change affect everyone and the urgency for transformational actions cannot be delayed any longer. These students, who are also our future leaders, have valid reasons to take action now.  Consequently, I welcome the initiative taken by the Pacific law students,” he told Wansolwara Online.
Pacific Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development (PaCE-SD) deputy director Dr Morgan Wairiu commended the effort of the group to fight climate change.  
“I strongly believe this will be a good option to bring in human rights law into the climate change space. Twenty-four years of negotiation, we are not going anyway and we are increasing the global average temperatures every year,” Dr Wairiu said.
“No actions have been taken to reach the target set under the Parish Agreement, emissions keep increasing and I don’t believe that diplomacy will take us anywhere. So we urgently need to be looking at other options that will bring drastic change and reduce emissions.”
The regional expert said it was geophysically possible to reduce the emissions and cut the temperature increase to less than 1.5 degrees.
“But nobody is taking that drastic action, which is why Pacific Island countries are negotiating to cut the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees – the maximum temperature regime before the whole ecosystem within the Pacific Islands is destroyed,” he said.
The PIF 16-member body insists that climate change will top the agenda next week. This comes as Western-aligned nations push to curb Beijing’s growing influence in the Pacific.
A ‘climate crisis’ was declared in the region during the 5th Pacific Islands Development Forum Leaders’ Summit last week, echoing the global movement declaring ‘climate emergency’.
Launched on 27 July, PISFCC is a civil society movement of law students from eight Pacific Island countries studying at The University of the South Pacific’s Emalus campus in Vanuatu and Laucala campus in Fiji.
Jared Koli is a second-year journalism student at The University of the South Pacific’s Laucala campus. He is also a reporter for the USP Journalism Programme’s student training newspaper and online publications, Wansolwara.



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