The Republic of Palau –a nation consisting of more than 200 low-lying islands in the Pacific Ocean—requested last week that the International Court of Justice issue a legal opinion regarding individual nations’ responsibility to address climate change.
Palau’s President Johnson Toribiong spoke before the United Nations' General Assembly and asked that it "seek, on an urgent basis ... an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the responsibilities of states under international law to ensure that activities carried out under their jurisdiction or control that emit greenhouse gases do not damage other states."
Palau, which was joined by another low-lying island state, the Marshall Islands, in making the request, hopes to establish a legal responsibility for climate change action—a move that if successful could play an integral role in compelling global action and influence court decisions within the U.S.
Although the opinion, if delivered in Palau’s favor, would not have an immediate or direct effect, such a ruling would provide a legal obligation for developed states to act through international action, and may establish a basis for climate change litigation within U.S. courts.
Island states and poorer nations are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and, in terms of stopping it, are at the mercy of the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases—notably China and the U.S.