• Press Release

Global: International Tribunal Sets Groundbreaking Precedent that Will Help Protect Oceans and People from Climate Harms

May 21, 2024

(Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Responding to the first international advisory opinion by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea issued today which held that anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GhG) emissions constitute pollution of the marine environment that states have a specific duty to prevent, reduce and control, Mandi Mudarikwa, Amnesty International’s Head of Strategic Litigation said:

“With global ocean temperatures the highest ever recorded, the harms that fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions are causing to marine environments and people’s rights are ruinous. Seas and oceans absorb vast amounts of GhG emissions produced by fossil fuel use but they are overheating, with negative impacts on marine life and ecosystems on which millions of people depend.

“Rising global sea temperatures are also accelerating the melting of polar ice caps and increasing sea levels, posing an existential threat to the small island states which sought the tribunal’s opinion, as well as to the human rights of hundreds of millions of people who live in coastal cities and communities.

“The tribunal’s seminal opinion requires action by the 169 states that are parties to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, including by anticipating risks relating to climate change and conserving living marine resources it threatens. This legal precedent is likely to inform future climate justice cases in national, regional and international courts.

“An urgent full, fair and forever phase out of all fossil fuels and a funded transition to renewable sources of energy is essential, with states most responsible for emissions leading the way, both in cutting emissions and in providing climate finance to lower income countries to mitigate, adapt and cope with the adverse impacts of the climate crisis.”


The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, based in Hamburg in Germany, comprises 21 elected judges from all regions of the world. The request for its advisory opinion, was made last year by the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law, a group of nine nations, to assess states’ obligations under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, a global treaty. Small island nations have contributed only a tiny fraction to global GhG emissions but are at among states most at risk from climate change.

The decision is likely to inform expected advisory opinions from the International Court of Justice, following a campaign spearheaded by students from the Pacific, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

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