Vanuatu leading on climate change and environment
Case study submitted by Fidel Zebeta
Climate Diplomacy team, Vanuatu
The single greatest threat to our very existence is climate change. Human-induced climate change is causing dangerous and widespread disruption in nature and affecting the lives of billions of people around the world 1. Urgent action is required to deal with increasing risks of heatwaves becoming a new normal, forest wildfire, droughts and floods that are already exceeding plants and animals’ tolerance thresholds, driving mass mortalities in species such as trees and corals. These weather extremes are occurring simultaneously, causing cascading impacts that are increasingly difficult to manage. They have exposed billions of living things to acute food and water insecurity, especially in Africa, Asia-Pacific, Central and South America.
It is past time to recognize that climate action is not a mere matter of State discretion; it is an exacting requirement under international law. Now is a critical window in which humanity has a last chance to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to prevent catastrophic climate change. Future generations will look back at what present generations did, or failed to do, to rise to this challenge.
The devastating impacts of climate change can no longer be ignored. Science confirms that human caused climate change is unequivocal. Past and present anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are responsible for the impacts we now face, and the loss and damage we now suffer.
Vanuatu has been ranked the world’s most disaster-prone country for both climate related and geological hazards in an annual World-Risk-Report published by the United Nations University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS). Thus, Vanuatu itself has experienced environmental extinction where a number of endemic species of plants and animals are now gone, as well as marine species.
Plants and animals are sensitive beings that can be influenced by the slow onset change of our climate. It changes the way species and populations interact with the environment and one another. These impacts can be felt throughout an entire ecosystem 2.
The Vanuatu government and NGOs are working together in introducing an Ecosystem-based adaptation approach. This is a strategy for adapting to climate change that harnesses nature-based solutions and ecosystem services. For instance, protecting coastal habitats like mangroves provides natural flood defences; reforestation can hold back desertification and recharge groundwater supplies in times of drought; and water bodies like rivers and lakes provide natural drainage to reduce flooding.
Community Conservation Areas in some islands in Vanuatu earn carbon credits to support communities and keep forests standing as a way for carbon sequestration to fight against climate change.
Vanuatu is building a coalition of States seeking a non-binding Advisory Opinion on Climate Change from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to gain clarity on how existing International Laws can be applied to strengthen action on climate change, protect people and the environment and save the Paris Agreement.
An advisory opinion of the ICJ will draw a clear line between what actions can be negotiated and what is already required by international law. An advisory opinion from the ICJ will foster ambition in the pledges made by States, which is crucial for the success of the process set in motion by the Paris Agreement and will send a clear signal to present and future generations that no stone is being left unturned in this critical decade to address the climate impacts on human rights, justice and inter-generational equity and save our environment.
1 Climate change: a threat to human wellbeing and health of the planet. Taking action now can secure our future — IPCC
2 Climate Change Impacts on Ecosystems | US EPA
See also Climate crisis to International Court of Justice
Last updated 28 January 2023