RELEASE: Statement of the Forum Chair, Cook Islands PM Mark Brown on the ITLOS Advisory Opinion delivered on May 21, 2024, on specific legal obligations of State Parties to the UNCLOS

Media Releases and News
30 May 2024

Pacific Islands Forum Chair Statement on the ITLOS AO (Advisory Opinion) delivered on May 21, 2024, on specific legal obligations of State Parties to the UNCLOS, in response to a request submitted by the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law.

Statement by the Forum Chair and Prime Minister of Cook Islands, Hon Mark Brown.

30 May 2024

The Pacific Islands Forum Chair, Cook Islands Prime Minister Hon. Mark Brown, welcomed the latest Advisory Opinion unanimously decided by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), following a Request by the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law. 

The Pacific Islands Forum commends ITLOS for the historic Advisory Opinion and congratulates all who contributed to this major milestone, including Forum Members that spearheaded the initiative.

As custodians of the Blue Pacific Ocean, the Ocean is a significant part of our Blue Pacific identity and way of life. Our People depend on the ocean for their survival, livelihood, and national development aspirations.

Despite the inextricable link between our People and the ocean, climate change continues to present the single greatest threat to our Blue Pacific. Ocean warming, sea level rise, and ocean acidification caused by anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, continues to affect the Blue Pacific continent.

Our blueprint, the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent (2050 Strategy), sets the region’s strategic vision, and in response to addressing these issues had captured “Climate Change and Disasters” as well as “Ocean and Environment” as part of its key thematic areas.

The ITLOS Advisory Opinion, including the current advisory proceedings before the International Court of Justice, amongst others, are key regional collective actions stipulated in the recently endorsed Implementation Plan for the 2050 Strategy, aimed at addressing the impacts of climate change. 

The ITLOS Advisory Opinion is a significant milestone. It provides much-needed clarity and support, to the work of relevant international organisations such as the International Law Commission of which the region is heavily engaged. 

The ITLOS Advisory Opinion confirming that anthropogenic GHG emissions into the atmosphere constitute ‘pollution of the marine environment’ is crucial. To this end, all relevant and specific legal obligations under UNCLOS can now be applied to anthropogenic GHG emissions. 

The ITLOS Advisory Opinion underscores the critical responsibility of States Parties in mitigating pollution of the marine environment. The Advisory Opinion affirms that the calamitous impacts of climate change, driven by human activities, necessitate immediate and sustained action from all States to uphold their international obligations and should focus all efforts on reducing GHG.

The ITLOS Advisory Opinion also amplifies the call that all States must implement effective measures to prevent, reduce, and control marine pollution from anthropogenic GHG emissions and to protect and preserve the marine environment from further degradation. It highlighted the duty to cooperate and emphasizes the interconnectedness of global efforts to combat climate change and the protection of marine ecosystems, advocating for robust international cooperation and adherence to scientific recommendations highlighted in the latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) synthesis report.

As we move forward, this Advisory Opinion will serve as a guiding landmark for our collective efforts to combat marine pollution and climate change,  and to protect and preserve the marine environment. It is a call to action for all States to intensify their commitments under UNCLOS and other relevant international agreements, including the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, to ensure a sustainable and resilient future for our oceans and the communities that depend on them.

As a Forum family of nations spread across our Blue Pacific Continent, the Leaders of this region will continue to champion environmental stewardship and sustainable development practices. We urge all State Parties to heed the ITLOS Advisory Opinion and take decisive actions to fulfil their obligations, safeguarding the health of our oceans and its ecosystem for generations to come.