Ambassador Webson: Advisory Opinion May Not Be Binding But Carries Significant Legal Weight

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Ambassador Aubrey Webson Highlights Key Advisory Opinion on Climate Governance

Ambassador Aubrey Webson, Antigua and Barbuda’s permanent representative to the United Nations, addressed a panel discussion on the key findings of a recent advisory opinion issued by the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS).

The panel brought together various stakeholders to reflect on the implications of the tribunal’s opinion, particularly regarding obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and state engagement.

“Excellencies, members of this distinguished panel, friends, it is a distinct honor to speak with you today about this historic milestone in our collective journey towards environmental justice and climate governance,” Ambassador Webson began.

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The advisory opinion, requested by the Commission of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), confirms that states parties to UNCLOS have specific obligations to prevent, reduce, and control marine environmental pollution arising from climate change. This also includes protecting and preserving the marine environment amid climate change impacts.

“This landmark advisory opinion has profound implications for international environmental law and climate governance, affecting both developed and developing states,” Webson stated. “We are at a novel juncture in the development of international law and climate litigation before international courts and tribunals.”

Webson emphasized the significance of the advisory opinion, noting, “Although this is not binding, the advisory opinion carries significant legal weight and moral authority.” He added, “This tool was fit for purpose and achieved an excellent result, and Antigua and Barbuda is very proud to be part of that process and to be one of the founding members of COSIS.”

The tribunal’s determination that greenhouse gas emissions constitute pollution of the marine environment under UNCLOS is groundbreaking.

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Webson highlighted, “The Tribunal determined that greenhouse gas emissions constitute pollution of the marine environment under UNCLOS and confirmed that the best available science must play a central role in determining what steps are necessary to combat climate change under the treaty.”

Additionally, the tribunal clarified that all state parties must take all measures necessary to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and these measures must be determined objectively, free from political considerations.

“Most critically, ITLOS clarified that member states and all state parties must take all measures necessary to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and those measures must be determined objectively and not as a matter of political considerations,” Webson pointed out.

Ambassador Webson expressed pride in Antigua and Barbuda’s role as a founding member of the Commission of Small Island Developing States (COSIS) and their participation in this historic process.

“As a representative of my country, Antigua and Barbuda, I must express pride and humility in being part of this historic process,” he said. “We extend heartfelt congratulations and our deepest gratitude to the COSIS team, member states, and legal experts who supported and provided all of the legal framework to allow us to take this to the next stage.”

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This advisory opinion by ITLOS signifies a major step forward in addressing the urgent challenges of climate change and environmental protection, reinforcing the commitment of small island developing states and the international community to sustainable climate governance.

The panel was moderated by Mr. Daniel Stewart of the Independent International Legal Advocates and featured distinguished speakers including Ms. Ximena Hinrichs of ITLOS, Ms. Catherine Amirfar, Co-Representative of the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (COSIS) to ITLOS, and Ms. Cymie Payne, Associate Professor and Chair of the Ocean Law Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The advisory opinion determined that greenhouse gas emissions constitute pollution of the marine environment under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and confirmed that the best available science must guide the steps necessary to address climate change under the treaty.

Additionally, ITLOS clarified that member states must take all measures necessary to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and these measures must be determined objectively, not based on political considerations.

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