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Vanuatu case

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  • 1. What is the main demand in the Vanuatu lawsuit?

    In the lawsuit, the UN member states jointly seek advice from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the obligations of states in the climate crisis. This includes determining how existing international laws can be applied to limit climate change, protect people and the environment, and uphold the Paris Climate Agreement. The goal is to clarify the legal obligations of countries in addressing the climate crisis and to recognize climate change as a matter of human rights on a global scale.

    While the advice itself will not be binding, the ICJ has significant influence. The advice should primarily clarify that ambitious climate action is required under international law. Furthermore, it may lead to countries that have caused the climate crisis (especially in the global North) having to pay compensation to countries experiencing its negative effects (especially in the global South). Additionally, the Court may affirm that wealthy countries must support poorer countries financially and technologically in energy transition and adaptation measures.

  • 2. Why is this lawsuit so important?

    It’s essential to place the relationship between climate change and human rights in a global perspective. Because CO2 emissions do not stay within borders. Moreover, countries that are least responsible for causing the climate crisis (like Vanuatu) suffer the most from its consequences. That’s unjust. Through international law, the rights of countries like Vanuatu can finally be taken seriously.

    The right to a safe environment and one’s own culture is already being violated in many parts of the world due to climate change. The judiciary system is one of the most influential ways to protect people against this. And particularly relevant for climate cases is that the law can advocate for both current and future generations.

  • 3. What makes the Vanuatu lawsuit so remarkable?

    Firstly, because the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the highest court in the world, is now addressing the climate issue for the first time. Although there are already national and regional climate lawsuits, the rulings are often uncertain and vary greatly. In this case, a ruling is being sought at a global level, applicable to all countries worldwide. That’s significant!

    Additionally, the case is unique because it demonstrates that small local communities can vindicate their rights at the highest international level. A true David versus Goliath story. And with great success! After years of lobbying at local, national, and finally international levels, all countries in the world have agreed to the request for advice.

  • 4. What is the biggest challenge in the lawsuit?

    All UN member states and various international organizations have been invited to submit pleadings. Many of these pleadings refer to the 2015 Paris Agreement. While that sounds good, the Paris agreement is quite limited and full of vague wordings. For powerful advice, it’s important that the obligations and responsibilities of countries become much more concrete and strict. Countries like Vanuatu, therefore, not only point to Paris but also, for example, to universal obligations to protect human rights.

    Historical pollution also plays a role in the advice that the International Court of Justice will provide. Wealthier countries often feel uncomfortable about this because there is a fear of liability. The procedures ensure that the facts are laid out on the table and enable countries like Vanuatu to seek redress.

  • 5. How did you obtain the letter from a local from Vanuatu?

    Through Margaretha’s contacts, we asked a prominent local resident of Vanuatu, Stephanie Stevens, to write a letter to us here in the Netherlands. This way, she can help us better understand and feel what climate change and the lawsuit mean for the lives of Vanuatu residents in a very personal and direct way. She emailed the letter to us. We translated and printed the letter here.

Continue to watch and read


  • Short video in which Margaretha discusses the case, made by the UvA Sustainability Platform >>  LINK


  • Interview on Radio 1 (NL) >> LINK
  • Episode from the Flemisch podcast Andere Ogen (NL) >> LINK
  • Episode of the Amsterdam Law Hub Podcast, with Margaretha calling in from 30:01 (NL) >> LINK


  • Official website of the Vanuatu case >> LINK
  • NOS news article about the Vanuatu case (NL) >> LINK

The UvA profile of Margaretha Wewerinke-Singh and her scientific publications >> LINK

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