Climate Change Negotiations – UNFCCC, COP, Other Conventions and Protocols

A push for more Climate Action


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS)

Mains level: New Elements in the ITLOS Advisory Opinion on Climate Change

Why in the news?

On May 21, 2024, ITLOS issued an advisory opinion for COSIS, clarifying UNCLOS obligations for climate change mitigation and marine pollution control.”

About International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS)

  • The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) is an independent judicial body established by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to adjudicate disputes arising out of the interpretation and application of the Convention. 

Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (COSIS)

  • It was established in 2021. COSIS was formed as an association of small island states, which are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. COSIS aims to address and mitigate the unique challenges that small island states face due to climate change.
  • It seeks to leverage international law to advocate for stronger climate action and protection measures.

New Elements in the ITLOS Advisory Opinion on Climate Change

  • Broad Interpretation of Obligations: The ITLOS extended its interpretation of obligations under UNCLOS to include not just parties to the COSIS Agreement but all states, emphasizing that climate change mitigation responsibilities apply universally.
  • Recognition of GHG Emissions as Marine Pollution: The Tribunal explicitly recognized anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, especially carbon dioxide, as a form of marine pollution under Article 194(1) of UNCLOS, necessitating measures to prevent, reduce, and control these emissions.
  • Adoption of the 1.5°C Temperature Goal: The Opinion aligned necessary climate actions with the more ambitious 1.5°C global temperature goal, reflecting the latest scientific consensus and international climate commitments, thus raising the standard for state obligations under UNCLOS.

Legal Significance

  • Principle of Prevention and Collective Interest: The Opinion embraces the principle of prevention, typically applied bilaterally, in a collective context for addressing climate change.
  • Stringent Due Diligence Obligation: The ITLOS describes the obligation to take necessary measures to mitigate climate change as a due diligence obligation. However, the standard of conduct is stringent due to the high risks of serious and irreversible harm to the marine environment from GHG emissions.
  • General Obligation to Mitigate Climate Change: While the Opinion outlines a general obligation under Article 194(1) of the UNCLOS, it is somewhat general in nature, allowing for measures that gradually reduce GHG emissions over time. This underscores that states do not have unrestricted discretion in their climate actions.
  • Equity and State Capabilities: The Opinion incorporates the principle of equity, recognizing that the necessary measures for GHG reduction are subject to states’ means and capabilities. This acknowledges differences in states’ capacities to address climate change and ensures that obligations are realistic and fair.
  • Political Influence Despite Lack of Legal Force: Although the advisory opinion lacks binding legal force, it holds substantial political influence as an authoritative judicial pronouncement. This can guide future legal interpretations and state actions in international climate change law.

Conclusion: ITLOS plays a critical role in the interpretation and application of the law of the sea, providing a judicial forum for resolving maritime disputes and offering authoritative guidance on emerging global issues like climate change. The recent advisory opinion underscores the Tribunal’s capacity to address complex and pressing environmental challenges, contributing to the evolving landscape of international environmental law.

Mains PYQ:

Q Describe the major outcomes of the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). What are the commitments made by India in this conference? (UPSC IAS/2021)

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