ITLOS advisory on marine pollution

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Source: The post ITLOS advisory on marine pollution has been created, based on the article “A push for more climate action” published in “The Hindu” on 11th June 2024

UPSC Syllabus Topic: GS Paper 3 – Environment – Climate Change

Context: The article discusses the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) advisory opinion. It includes outlining states’ obligations under UNCLOS to mitigate climate change, specifically by addressing marine pollution from greenhouse gas emissions. This opinion emphasizes the importance of taking necessary measures based on the best available science.

About COSIS:

  1. Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (COSIS) was established on the eve of COP 26 to develop international law on climate change.
  2. COSIS membership is open to all members of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).
  3. The mandate of the Commission shall be to promote and contribute to the definition, implementation, and progressive development of rules and principles of international law concerning climate change.

What is the significance of the ITLOS advisory?

1.New Finding

ITLOS accepted a request from the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (COSIS).

ITLOS confirmed that human-released carbon dioxide is a pollutant under UNCLOS.

This aligns with scientific findings that oceans absorb about a quarter of CO2 emissions, causing acidification and temperature rise.

  1. Legal Implication

ITLOS’s opinion emphasized countries’ obligations under Article 194(1) of UNCLOS to prevent marine pollution from greenhouse gases.

Measures should be based on the best available science and international agreements like the Paris Agreement.

For detailed information on United Nations convention of the sea (UNCLOS) read this article here

  1. Standard for State Obligation

ITLOS described the obligations as due diligence but with a high standard due to serious risks.

States must gradually reduce GHG emissions; immediate cessation is not required.

4.Collective Interest

The Opinion supports the principle that climate change is a collective interest, not just a bilateral issue. This approach adds a new chapter to international environmental law.

  1. Other

The opinion’s political significance is notable, despite lacking legal force.

The Netherlands Supreme Court’s Urgenda case shows the need for concrete emission reduction targets, like reducing emissions by 25% below 1990 levels by 2020.

The ITLOS advisory opinion gains more attention due to upcoming ICJ proceedings on states’ climate change obligations.

For detailed information on international courts and climate change read this article here

What are the limitations of the ITLOS opinion?

  1. Lack of Concrete Methodology: ITLOS did not provide a clear method to assess state actions, unlike the detailed targets set in the Urgenda judgment by the Netherlands Supreme Court.
  2. Equity Considerations: The opinion states measures depend on states’ capabilities and available means, emphasizing fairness but potentially limiting strict action.
  3. Advisory Nature: The opinion is advisory and not legally binding, limiting its direct influence on state actions but retaining political significance.

Question for practice:

Examine the significance and limitations of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) advisory opinion on states’ obligations under UNCLOS regarding marine pollution from greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in the context of addressing climate change.

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