Justice Update – ITLOS tackles climate change – The Eco Files

Presenting their testimony at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in September 2023, from left to right, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne, environmental lawyer Naima Te Maile Fifita and Deputy Minister of Justice of Sierra Leone Alpha Sesay.

In our latest Eco Files episode we are focusing on how climate change is being dealt with by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

Back in December 2022 the Tribunal received a submission from a group of small island states to address climate change. The nine island states, called COSIS, the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law, have requested the tribunal issue an advisory opinion on the responsibilities of nation states in regards to climate change.

In September, ITLOS heard two weeks of public hearings in Hamburg about the request. It is the first time an international judicial body has been called upon to consider the responsibilities of countries when it comes to protecting the world’s waters from climate change.

The tribunal is due to issues an advisory opinion next year, which is not legally binding, but offers an authoritative statement on legal matters that could guide countries as they craft climate protection law.

The advisory opinion is also significant because it will be the first of three international courts to issue an opinion on climate change and could set precedent. In separate proceedings, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the International Court of Justice have also been asked to clarify states positions with respect to climate change.

In this episode we examine some of the arguments made by COSIS to the tribunal and listen to some of the testimony made throughout the ten day hearing, including from Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne and environmental lawyer and indigenous Tuvaluan, Naima Te Maile Fifita.

We also interview the Deputy Minister of Justice of Sierra Leone, Alpha Sesay, who also addressed the tribunal, and stressed the need for equitable solutions to the climate emergency. 

If you want to know more about the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, listen back to our episode from last year, where friend of the pod Molly Quell unpacks a dispute between the Maldives and Mauritius over their maritime boundaries and Douglas Guilfoyle, Professor of International Law and Security at UNSW Canberra provides the history of the tribunal.

This podcast has been produced as part of a partnership with JusticeInfo.net, an independent website in French and English covering justice initiatives in countries dealing with serious violence. It is a media outlet of Fondation Hirondelle, based in Lausanne, Switzerland.