On 12 December 2022, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (the “ITLOS”) registered a request for an advisory opinion from the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (the “COSIS”).
The COSIS was established as an international organisation pursuant to the 2021 Agreement for the Establishment of the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (the “Climate Commission Agreement”). Current COSIS Members are Antigua and Barbuda, Tuvalu, the Republic of Palau (subject to approval under its internal law), Niue, the Republic of Vanuatu, and Saint Lucia. The Climate Commission Agreement authorises the COSIS to request advisory opinions from the ITLOS on any legal question within the scope of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (the “UNCLOS”).
In its 12 December 2022 request, the COSIS asked the ITLOS for an advisory opinion on what are “the specific obligations” of UNCLOS State Parties – including under Part XII of UNCLOS, which deals with protection and preservation of the marine environment – as regards the requirements (a) “to prevent, reduce and control pollution of the marine environment in relation to the deleterious effects that result or are likely to result from climate change, including through ocean warming and sea level rise, and ocean acidification, which are caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere”; and (b) “to protect and preserve the marine environment in relation to climate change impacts, including ocean warming and sea level rise, and ocean acidification”.
The ITLOS later invited written statements from UNCLOS States Parties, the COSIS and other intergovernmental organisations on the questions submitted to the court. The deadline for submitting such statements has recently been extended to 16 June 2023.