Several Caribbean countries have joined with island states in the Pacific to ask for a court ruling on whether carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions absorbed by the sea count as pollution.
Antigua & Barbuda, Bahamas, St. Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia and St Vincent & the Grenadines are among nine countries that have presented their case to the United Nations’ International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).
The ‘greenhouse gas’ CO2 is absorbed by sea water, which increases its temperature and makes it more acidic, thereby harming marine life and contributing to sea level rise. Rising seas threaten the existence of coastal communities and may make some islands completely uninhabitable. Even before this happens, warmer, more acidic oceans will no longer be able to support the fish on which small island states and coastal communities across the globe depend.
Indian paper The Hindu explains: “Ocean ecosystems create half the oxygen humans breathe and limit global warming by absorbing much of the carbon dioxide emitted by human activities.” The paper quoted Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua & Barbuda saying: “Without rapid and ambitious action, climate change may prevent my children and grandchildren from living on the island of their ancestors, the island that we call home.”
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) already forbids pollution of the oceans. Until now, this has mainly been directed against discharges by shipping and waste dumping into the sea.
The small island states are the smallest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions yet are at greatest risk from global warming and, until now, the least able to hold the big polluters to account. Targeting the oceanic effects of CO2 emissions is a new tactic, and untried in maritime law.
In addition to the ‘ITLOS Nine’, another 34 state parties will participate in the court hearings, which run until 25 September.