The Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law – or COSIS – looks set to take a strategic step towards holding major polluting countries and entities accountable for their contributions to the climate crisis.
Antigua and Barbuda is one of the founding members of the Commission, with Prime Minister Gaston Browne signing an agreement to establish it, alongside his counterpart from Tuvalu, during last year’s United Nations climate conference, COP26.
“What we plan to do is to go the legal route to try and establish some level of legal liability to those who continue to pollute our seas and our airspace,” Browne said at the weekend.
“So, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) will be filing certain documents sometime in December in which we’ll be putting a legal question to ITLOS to determine whether or not these state parties that are polluting our seas, if they are liable and we have no doubt that they are liable.
“I mean, we have the evidence to show what has happened here with the bleaching of our coral, so we know that they have committed a tort and we are pretty sure that we will have some success.
“It may take maybe at least a year or two before we get a decision but at least we are going the legal route as well because we recognise that the voluntary route is not yielding the type of results that we require and we are not seeing the urgency,” Browne said.
ITLOS is an independent judicial body established by the Third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea to adjudicate disputes arising out of the interpretation and application of the Convention.
The Prime Minister was one of several leaders to reiterate the importance of ‘climate reparations’ during this year’s climate conference in Sharm El Sheik, Egypt.
He said that although for years these countries have been allowed to drag their feet on previous commitments made, the time has come for them to be held accountable as “all polluting nations must contribute to loss and damage”.
Even China, according to Browne, despite the two nations’ close diplomatic relationship, must be held accountable in some way.
Despite the obvious focus being placed on countries like China and India – who are some of the largest industrial nations today – Browne pledged that other major CO2-pumping countries like the US, the UK and Japan will not be spared.
“China also argues too that it is a developing country, so we have taken the position that in determining the reassessment that you have to look at the state of development of the country. So, you have to have like a differentiated position. You can’t just treat China and India like the other G7 countries that have polluted the earth for the last 200 years, so with that historical aspect, we are not letting countries like the US and the UK off the hook. They remain responsible for the historical emissions.
“What we have said though, rather than making the claims retroactive, that the claims should be current,” he added.
Speaking on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) in Egypt, Browne claimed that the 70 billion Euro in profits made by just six fossil fuel companies in the first half of this year was more than enough to cover the cost of major climate damages in developing states.