Vanuatu takes world’s biggest polluters to court

Vanuatu is exploring an unprecedented path to protect its population against natural disaster: suing world’s biggest polluters.

After Cyclone Pam destroyed the South Pacific island in 2015, Vanuatu’s minister for foreign affairs Ralph Regenvanu is considering the option to take world’s biggest polluters to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to safeguard the people of Vanuatu.

Mr. Regenvanu heralded the manoeuvre publicly at the 2018 Climate Vulnerable Forum Virtual Summit. Mr Regenvanu’s strategy aims at shiftingthe costs of climate protection back onto fossil fuel companies, the financial institutions and governments that actively and knowingly created this existential threat.

So far, neither national nor international courts have sentenced a nation or a private company to pay compensation to another exposed to climate damage. If successful, the legal action by Vanuatu would force big polluters to amend their environmental policies. However, the decision of the small Pacific Island nation has to be carefully evaluated.

First of all, Vanuatu has to choose the right legal forum. While a ruling by a Vanuatu court against another nation state would not be easy to enforce, taking the case in a foreign court would be difficult. Moreover, taking legal action against big polluters could mean suing Vanuatu’s major aid donors damaging Vanuatu’s political and economic interests.

Even though a legal success is unlikely, Vanuatu’s action can pose a real threat to the reputation of world’s biggest polluters.

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