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Small islands seek advice from UN maritime tribunal on climate change

BERLIN– The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea said on Monday that small island states had asked it to provide an opinion on the impact of a key United Nations treaty governing maritime activities on efforts to combat climate change – directions that could have far-reaching legal implications.

The Hamburg-based UN tribunal said it received a request from the Small Island States Commission on Climate Change and International Law to issue an advisory opinion on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Specifically, the commission – backed by the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda and the Pacific island country of Tuvalu – wants the UN tribunal to clarify what obligations the parties to the treaty have in relation to the effects climate change caused by human activity, and on protecting the marine environment from ocean warming and sea level rise.

Small island states are among the nations most vulnerable to climate change.

The court said it added the claim to its list of cases.

While it is unclear if or when an advisory opinion could possibly be issued, if the tribunal provides the 168 parties to the treaty with legal advice on the issue of climate change, it could trigger other cases.

So far, 168 countries, including China, India, Russia and the European Union, are parties to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The United States, which is the largest emitter history of greenhouse gases in the world, are not among them.

ABC News

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