A group of Caribbean Community nations, known as Small Islands Developing States (SIDS), has approached the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg, Germany, seeking a legal advisory opinion regarding the responsibility of industrialized nations for environmental pollution and its impact on other nations.
The representatives from these SIDS countries have initiated hearings to ascertain whether major polluters, primarily western and developed nations, should be held accountable and required to provide compensation for the consequences of their industrial activities.
Rights to compensation
Gaston Browne, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda and co-chair of the Commission on Small States, was among the first to present arguments before the tribunal. Browne emphasized the urgency of addressing the issue and asserted the need for victim nations to assert their rights in the face of environmental damage.
In his statement, Browne remarked, “It cannot be expected that our people will remain silent as their homes are irretrievably destroyed. This is the opening chapter in the struggle to change the conduct of the international community by clarifying the obligations of states to protect the marine environment. We are, after all, peoples of the ocean, whether in the Caribbean or the Pacific, in the Atlantic or Indian oceans, surrounded by the vast expanses of water that have sustained us from time immemorial.”
Nations joining the cause
Several nations, including The Bahamas, Belize, St. Vincent, St. Lucia, Palau, Niue, and Vanuatu, have joined the case, underscoring the shared concern of SIDS nations regarding their minimal contribution to pollution and greenhouse gas emissions compared to the severe consequences they face. Browne emphasized the urgency of taking ambitious actions to mitigate the effects of climate change, stating, “Without rapid and ambitious remedial action, climate change may prevent my children and grandchildren from living on the island of their ancestors, the island we call home.”
Gaston Browne has long been an advocate for addressing the responsibility of polluting nations, especially as climate-related disasters intensify. He expressed, “We cannot remain silent in the face of such injustice. We cannot abandon our peoples to such a cruel fate.”
In 2021, Browne and his counterparts from Pacific nations established the Commission on Small Island States (COSIS) to leverage international law in addressing climate-altering actions by developed nations. This initiative aims to address the unique challenges faced by small island developing nations dealing with the rapidly changing global climate.