An international pathway has now been established to require governments to consider the human rights impacts of their climate policies and take more ambitious action under existing international agreements. This is thanks to a Vanuatu-led resolution, passed overnight with unanimous support from members of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

The UNGA will now ask the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to issue an advisory opinion on countries’ duties to protect human rights from the climate crisis, after a campaign spearheaded by university students in Vanuatu swept the globe gaining the support of over 120 co-sponsoring countries, including Australia, the United Kingdom, France and New Zealand. The ICJ will hold hearings and request submissions, with a view to issuing an advisory opinion in 2024. 

Shiva Gounden, Pacific advisor at Greenpeace Australia Pacific, said this is the latest, and arguably most powerful demonstration of global climate leadership from those most impacted by the climate crisis.

“Pacific island nations suffer the most devastating impacts to their lives, livelihoods, and cultures, despite contributing the least to the climate crisis,” he said. 

“In the face of this destruction, the hope, determination and courage of Pacific peoples shines through. These proud people know that their lands and ways of living are worth saving – and have the courage, conviction, and the plan to do so.”

Christine Rose, lead climate campaigner at Greenpeace Aotearoa, said, “the next step is no less important. As the ICJ convenes to consider the case and collects submissions from around the world, the judges must prioritise the voices of the people on the frontline of the climate crisis here in the Pacific. 

“It is positive to see the New Zealand Government supporting this call linking climate change and human rights, but now it needs to back this up with action at home. 

“Protecting human rights from the impacts of the climate crisis means acting to rapidly reduce emissions here in Aotearoa, especially those of the dairy industry, which is New Zealand’s biggest climate polluter.

“Everyone deserves a flourishing environment and a safe and stable climate. But while New Zealand is supporting climate leadership on an international stage, it is failing to address the domestic emissions that drive the climate crisis that’s impacting the human rights of frontline communities around the world,” added Rose.

“This includes indigenous communities here in Aotearoa. In Tairāwhiti, for example, Māori communities have been bearing the brunt of the climate crisis for years. Storms and cyclones, such as the recent Cyclone Gabrielle, and Cyclone Hale before it, devastated local communities. The government can’t turn back the clock, but by implementing ambitious and far-reaching climate policy to reduce emissions now, it can help prevent further destruction. 

“New Zealand is a part of the Pacific. It’s time for the Government to take rapid and meaningful action to reduce emissions at home, and protect current and future generations from the harmful impacts of climate change.”