GA: ICJ and Climate Change

Explanation of vote by Permanent Representative Ambassador Mona Juul following the adoption of a General Assembly resolution on the request for an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the obligations of States in respect of climate change, 29 March 2023.

As one of the resolution’s co-sponsors, Norway would like to thank Vanuatu and the core group for this important and timely initiative.

Climate change poses an existential threat to both present and future generations. Protecting the climate system and the environment from anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, will, to quote the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, “be the defining issue of our age”. Addressing this issue is of the highest priority for Norway.

All states are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. We recognize that Small Island Developing States will be among those particularly affected. In its most recent report, the IPCC estimates that 896 million people from low-lying coastal zones will be especially exposed to changes in the ocean and the cryosphere, notably through sea level rise and associated loss of biodiversity. The factual consequences of these changes prompt important and complex questions of international law.

The changing coastlines may affect the location of maritime limits. National boundaries may be affected, and in certain instances particularly vulnerable States risk losing land territory that is the basis for their existence. Furthermore, people may be forced to leave their homes to find assistance and protection abroad. These issues pertaining to sea-level rise in relation to international law are on the agenda of the International Law Commission and we welcome the Commission’s contribution to assist States in clarifying and exploring the international law relating to this pressing and topical issue.

Norway welcomes the ICJ’s consideration of the current obligations of states under international law to ensure the protection of the climate system and the environment, as well as the legal consequences where states, by their acts or omissions, breach such obligations, causing significant harm. We believe that improved legal clarity is important to strengthen our common ability to comply with these obligations in the future. From Norway’s perspective, it is in elaborating on current obligations, and in this, laying the foundation for improved future compliance and higher ambition on climate action, that this resolution has its greatest value.

We are therefore pleased that the questions posed to the Court are focused on improving the understanding of existing obligations under international law, to prevent future breaches. We also welcome that these questions relate to obligations and possible legal consequences for all states, and not limited to a specific state or group of states. We note that the questions are not determinative of whether there are such obligations or where they flow from. We also not that the questions posed to the Court do not prejudge the nature of such obligations or their consequences but are openly phrased.

Furthermore, we note that the questions are not based on the assumption that breaches of any relevant obligations already have occurred or are occurring now but looks to clarify the existence and content of obligations and the legal consequences if breaches occur.

Norway’s co-sponsorship of this resolution is without prejudice to its position on, and interpretation of, the obligations, instruments, and concepts to which the resolution refers. It is equally without prejudice to any submission made by Norway before the ICJ or any other court, tribunal, or treaty body on the issues to which the resolution refers. 

Responding to climate change will require practical as well as legal solutions. Discussions about the legal consequences of climate change must therefore be seen in tandem with and not overshadow our political determination to address this pressing issue. Recognizing that the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement is the primary negotiating forum for developing and implementing international climate framework.

It is our hope that the ICJ’s consideration of the questions put to it through this resolution will be a constructive contribution for strengthening both global and national climate action and raising ambition.