Environment & Biodiversity Uncategorized

Climate Justice and Accountability: Can Countries Be Sued for Failing to Prevent Climate Disasters?

The United Nations General Assembly has asked the International Court of Justice to rule on whether countries can be sued under international law for failing to prevent climate disasters, reflecting the international community’s dissatisfaction with global climate agencies and the need for more effective climate action.


  • Resolution by Vanuatu: The resolution was unanimously adopted by the small Pacific island country of Vanuatu, showing global agreement on the climate crisis.
  • Postpone climate action: Frustration with global climate agencies’ procedures, especially the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), comes from their deliberations frequently ending in compromises that postpone climate action.
  • The International Court of Justice’s decision contains moral weight: The Hague-based court’s decision is not legally binding, but it does carry moral weight, possibly setting the stage for countries to integrate climate justice into their legal frameworks.

The International Court of Justice’s role and authority


  • Contentious jurisdiction refers to the ICJ’s authority to resolve legal disputes between consenting states. Decisions made under contentious jurisdiction are binding


  • The UN General Assembly (UNGA), Security Council (SC), and other specialised bodies of the organisation can request the ICJ’s opinion on a legal issue under advisory jurisdiction.
  • The advisory judgements of the ICJ are not legally binding. They do, however, have major normative weight and serve to clarify international law on pertinent issues.
  • The ICJ’s advisory opinion on climate change can be helpful in national climate-related litigation.

Attempts to discuss climate change in non-environmental forums in the past

  • Climate change is on the agenda: Since 2007, global warming has been on the UN Security Council’s agenda, with the UNSC trying to frame the problem from a security standpoint rather than a development or environmental standpoint.
  • Climate change securitization: Developing countries, including India and China, have correctly opposed climate change securitization, arguing that it could lead to the imposition of sanctions and other coercive measures.
  • The use of rights and justice terminology has given the Vanuatu-sponsored plan more traction and global support.

Vocabulary for rights and justice, as well as current developments

  • Climate justice: The proposal sponsored by Vanuatu emphasises the significance of climate justice in addressing the problem.
  • Right to reparations: Following climate emergencies, such as Pakistan’s devastating floods in 2020 and the recent discussions on loss and damage at the COP26 meeting in Glasgow, countries have begun to claim their right to reparations.
  • Rising climate litigation suits around the world: The increasing number of climate litigation cases around the world, in which citizens and organisations sue governments and companies for failing to act on climate change, demonstrates the growing demand for climate justice.

The difficulties in keeping countries accountable

  • Individual accountability: Holding individual countries or governments responsible for climate inaction has been a significant stumbling block at several climate summits.
  • Compensation issue: Under pressure from US diplomats, the Paris Agreement includes a clause stating that the treaty does not involve or provide a foundation for any liability or compensation.
  • American support for the UNGA resolution was reportedly hesitant, suggesting that powerful countries may be unwilling to be held accountable for their climate inaction.


The intervention of the UNGA should not detract from the job of reforming the UNFCCC. Institutions under the umbrella climate body must be more equitable and just. Engaging with the ICJ could drive it in that direction, but wealthier UNFCCC members must take the lead. The rising demand for climate justice, as well as the growing number of climate litigation cases, emphasise the importance of addressing the issue in a just and equitable way.

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