Small Island Nations Take High-Emitting Countries to Court To Protect the Ocean

Countries threatened by rising sea levels are asking a tribunal to decide on responsibility for pollution of the marine environment

September 10, 2023 | Source: The Guardian | by Karen McVeigh

In a landmark hearing, small island nations disproportionately affected by the climate crisis will take on high-emitting countries in a court in Hamburg, Germany, on 11 September, in what is being seen as the first climate justice case aimed at protecting the ocean.

During the two-day hearing, the nations – including the Bahamas, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Antigua and Barbuda among others – will ask the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (Itlos) to determine whether greenhouse gas emissions absorbed by the marine environment should be considered pollution.

As one of the planet’s greatest carbon sinks, the ocean absorbs 25% of carbon dioxide emissions, captures 90% of the heat caused by those emissions and produces half the world’s oxygen.

Most countries have obligations under the legally binding UN convention on the law of the sea to take measures to prevent, reduce and control marine pollution.

If the case, brought by the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (Cosis), is successful, these obligations would include carbon-emission reduction and protection of marine environments already damaged by CO2 pollution.