Pacific youth need action on climate change, Vanuatu PM says, as leaders seek to appeal to world’s highest court

Vanuatu’s Prime Minister has criticised the slow pace of international negotiations to reduce carbon emissions as “totally out of step” with the threat facing Pacific Island nations.

Bob Loughman is pushing to take climate change to the international court, rallying 15 Pacific Island leaders who have come together in Fiji this week for the Pacific Islands Forum. 

“Young people simply cannot wait,” he said, referring to the need for world leaders to take urgent action on climate change.

The forum has discussed how to increase international support and funding to fight the impacts of climate change, as well as China’s ambition for greater security ties across the region.

Mr Loughman said the world’s highest court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), could play a key role in compelling states to protect future generations from climate change impacts. 

He said an advisory opinion issued by the ICJ would also help boost funding for Pacific Island countries to rebuild communities affected by sea level rise.

‘Take action to fight this emergency’

Bob Loughman walks through a room wearing a red and white Pacific shirt and a beaded necklace.
Bob Loughman wants the ICJ to issue an advisory opinion on climate change. (Vanuatu Daily Post: Dan McGarry, file)

In calling on the United Nations General Assembly to back an ICJ case, Mr Loughman said Vanuatu had gained “unanimous support” from forum members. 

Developed nations most responsible for climate change have been reluctant to commit to financing for low-lying island states to deal with the loss and damage caused by rising sea levels.

But an ICJ opinion would speed up the mobilisation of climate funds, put human rights at the centre of the debate and respond to the demands of young people, Mr Loughman told a community dialogue in Suva on the sidelines of the forum.

“Time seems totally out of step with the reality of climate change’s impact on the lives of Pacific people,” he said.

Climate change has been a major focus of the forum, despite the shock withdrawal of Kiribati, discussions over a bid by China to sign a regional trade and security pact, and the announcement that US Vice President Kamala Harris would make a virtual address.

On Tuesday, Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama told the forum the region was in a state of turmoil from the economic shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat of climate change, and as superpowers and some middle powers “clamour to shape the world in their favour”.

Pacific leaders exchange agreements
Frank Bainimarama (right) has called for regional unity at the forum. (Supplied: Government of the Federated States of Micronesia)

‘We will forge ahead together’

Mr Bainimarama said the most important question for the forum was regional unity.

“Will we forge ahead together, will we take individual paths, will we be assertive or leave it to others to decide our fate?,” he asked. 

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said forum members, including Australia, would seek reconciliation with Kiribati.

ABC/Reuters