Written by 01:26 World

Top Oceans Court Says Nations Must Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The world’s highest court dealing with the oceans issued a groundbreaking opinion on Tuesday that said excessive greenhouse gases were pollutants that could cause irreversible harm to the marine environment and must be cut back.

The advisory opinion by the court, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, is not binding, but it stated that, legally, nations must take all necessary measures to reduce, control and prevent marine pollution caused by human-made greenhouse gas emissions.

The 21 judges on the tribunal were unanimous in their opinion, and experts say it could lead to more wide-ranging claims for damages against polluting nations.

The stance taken by the tribunal, which is sometimes called the Oceans Court, is also likely to affect how other international and national courts address the growing dangers posed by climate change.

The seas are vulnerable because the burning of fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, warming the world and contributing to a rise in sea levels by melting glaciers and ice sheets. Climate change also contributes to the heating and acidification of ocean waters, which affects marine life and the food chain, among other dangers.

The request for an advisory opinion was made by a group of small island nations that are already affected by rising sea levels as their coasts erode or become inhabitable and fresh water for drinking and planting crops turns saline. The court’s opinion applies to the more than 165 countries that ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which includes large polluters such as China, Russia and India, but not the United States. (The Senate would not ratify the pact.)


Last modified: 22 May 2024