Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister, Gaston Browne.
Gov’t of Antigua and Barbuda

A group of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) including Antigua and The Bahamas Tuesday secured victory at an international arbitrating body as it ruled that greenhouse gas emissions absorbed by oceans are to be considered as marine pollution and states are obliged to ensure marine environments are protected.

Following years of advocacy and an approach to the Germany-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), the nations also included St. Lucia, Tuvalu, Palau, Niue, Vanuatu, St. Vincent and St. Kitts were able to win the first judgement linked to climate justice.

Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne who had spent months trying to persuade other Caricom member states to join in the fight, hailed the victory ahead of a major SIDS conference to be held in Antigua from next week Monday.

“We have talked ourselves hoarse since the 1990s,” local media reported Browne as saying Wednesday. It cannot be expected that our people remain silent as their homes are irretrievably destroyed,” remarked Browne, calling the request “an opening chapter. Small island states may be the first to fall, through no fault of our own, but we will not be the last, for no country on earth can escape the deadly grasp of climate change,” Browne said as he reacted to the opinion by the tribunal.

The group of nearly a dozen states had asked the tribunal for an opinion on climate responsibilities of polluting nations as they set the stage for the ruling to be used at other legal bodies including the World Court in The Netherlands. The ruling is not binding. Several others signaled interest in the legal effort and what the ruling portends for nations which are victims of climate change, including the feared rises of sea levels.

The tribunal had been asked to determine whether greenhouse emission run legally afoul of the law of the sea convention. Additionally, the body was asked to determine whether signatory states are indeed mandated to reduce the fallout from emissions and the attendant pollution.

The tribunal states that “states parties to the convention have the specific obligations to take all necessary measures to prevent, reduce and control marine pollution from anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and to endeavor to harmonize their policies in this connection. Such measures should be determined objectively taking into account, inter alia, the best available science and relevant international rules and standards contained in climate change treaties such as the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, in particular the global temperature goal of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, and the timeline for emission pathways to achieve that goal.”