UN RESOLUTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE: ‘The climate crisis is a human rights crisis’

HaileyCampbellCIVICUS speaks with Hailey Campbell about the recent United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution on the environment, which enables the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to issue an advisory opinion on states’ obligations to address climate change.

Hailey is a climate activist and co-executive director of Care About Climate, a justice-driven climate education and empowerment civil society organisation (CSO) and network of international young climate leaders seeking to share climate solutions on the international stage.

What was the origin of the initiative to take climate matters to the ICJ?

The historic initiative was first introduced in 2019 by the Pacific Students Fighting Climate Change (PISFCC), a youth-led organisation established by students from eight Pacific Island countries. The PISFCC started by persuading the Pacific Island Forum, the region’s main political and economic organisation, to bring the issue of climate change and human rights to the ICJ. CSOs from the Pacific supported this campaign and built the Alliance for a Climate Justice Advisory Opinion (ACJAO) to include other non-state actors. In 2021, the state of Vanuatu, a small island state that is highly susceptible to climate catastrophes, initiated negotiations and the drafting of the resolution, which was later supported by over 130 countries and over 220 CSOs, and eventually adopted by consensus by the UNGA on 29 March 2023.

Do you view this resolution as a civil society victory?

This resolution is a monumental victory! This victory is the beginning of a wave of change in how we all think about the climate crisis and a reminder that climate change doesn’t respect geopolitical boundaries. Environmental CSOs, young leaders, island nations leading the call for the resolution, and PISFCC are reminding the world that before being an advocate, a fossil fuel executive, or a politician, we are all people. As humans, we all share this beautiful planet and sharing it requires caring about each other. If some leaders fail to recognise this, they should be held accountable.

The resolution calling for an ICJ advisory opinion is also a celebration of island innovation and perseverance. Islanders have relied on traditional knowledge and collaborative leadership to adapt to environmental impacts for thousands of years. Taking the world’s greatest challenge to the highest court highlights their strength and experience. As a young person living on an island in the Pacific, I am grateful to the leadership of other young islanders and allies who are paving the way for future generations to have a sustainable future.

How could the ICJ help address climate change?

The ICJ is the world’s highest court, which sets precedents via advisory opinions and rules on how states should cooperate globally. As such, it plays a prominent role in keeping peace among our nations.

The ICJ advisory opinion embodies the reality that we can’t solve the climate crisis by continuing the very practices that brought us to it. The scope of the resolution moves beyond the Paris Agreement, referencing the importance of having a safe climate as a vital human right for well-being. Through outlining potential legal consequences for nations causing significant harm to vulnerable communities and future generations, it could finally ensure greater accountability for the climate crisis. If nations are held more accountable and pushed to act, the door is opened to ensure fossil fuel emissions are fully eliminated and capacity-building for adaptation needs are fulfilled.

How have you personally engaged in advocating for this resolution and broader climate action?

I first learned about the PISFCC’s campaign in 2019, when I got involved with the climate movement following the COP25 climate change summit. As a sustainability student dedicated to working in the climate field, I was inspired by how a small group of students across island boundaries was strongly calling for an ICJ advisory opinion. I started following their journey and supporting their calls to action in various ways, from reposting social media content to bringing up relevant arguments in my conversations with leaders at subsequent COPs.

Inspired by their island leadership, I accepted an internship with the Local 2030 Islands Network, the world’s first global, island-led peer-to-peer network devoted to advancing the Sustainable Development Goals. I learned more about island sustainability and the impacts of climate change from island leaders and was amazed by their examples of innovative solutions and optimist spirit. Empowered to use my education to support islanders in making their voices heard, I chose to focus my master’s degree on developing a workplan for how islanders can work together with their communities to develop, track and implement sustainable solutions for climate change.

This journey of student activism helped me become a cross-sector environmental leader, work on climate adaption on islands, and lean into coalitions, like Care About Climate, as vulnerable groups to stand up for our right to a climate safe future. In fact, their inspiration led to my empowerment to work with young people to ensure the first-ever inclusion of young people as stakeholders in a UN climate conference decision at COP27.

What can international allies do to support this struggle?

All international allies must continue fighting! This historic resolution is only the first step. Before the ICJ can issue its opinion, written and oral arguments from states and select international organisations, such as the United Nations Environment Program, will be requested. It is important for community members to continue contacting their national representatives and international organisations selected to submit testimonies and call for support of the opinion. In fact, the PISFCC have just launched an amazing handbook to support policymakers, youth, and environmental CSOs in understanding their role that I highly recommend checking out. My favourite example from the handbook is about the importance of sharing your personal testimony as to why you believe in the need for an ICJ’s advisory opinion on climate rights and what impact it could have on your future with your national representatives. I hope everyone feels empowered to join me in the Alliance to stay up to date on ways to make an impact.

Get in touch with Care About Climate through its website or its Facebook page, and follow @careaboutclimate and @hailey_campbell on Twitter and Instagram.