Explanation of Position on Resolution Entitled Request for an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice

Nicholas Hill
Deputy U.S. Representative to ECOSOC
New York, New York
March 29, 2023

Thank you, Mr. President.

Addressing the climate crisis is of the highest priority for the United States, both at home and abroad.  In this context, the United States reaffirms our fundamental view that diplomacy is the best pathway to achieving our shared climate goals.

Domestically, President Biden has taken the strongest climate action in U.S. history. Through the Inflation Reduction Act and other efforts, we are on track to achieve our ambitious nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement, which is consistent with keeping a 1.5-degree Celsius temperature limit within reach.

Internationally, the United States has put the climate crisis at the center of our foreign policy and diplomacy.  President Biden, Secretary of State Blinken, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, cabinet officials across the U.S. government, and our diplomats around the world have been working tirelessly to advance global climate ambition in order to keep a 1.5 degree C limit on temperature rise within reach, to help countries adapt to and manage climate impacts, and more.

This has taken many diplomatic forms, among them: 

President Biden has convened fellow leaders of the world’s largest economies three times since taking office – and will do so again in April – to press for countries to enhance ambition in line with what the science tells us is needed to keep the 1.5 degree C limit within reach, complementing our broader efforts to drive ambitious implementation of the Paris Agreement at the COPs and other key milestones throughout the year;

  • promoting emission reductions in sectoral fora such as the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Maritime Organization;
  • spearheading bilateral and multilateral cooperative initiatives, such as the Global Methane Pledge and the Green Shipping Challenge; and
  • launching the President’s PREPARE initiative, aimed at working together with developing countries to help over 500 million people worldwide adapt to climate change.

And we are focused on mobilizing resources to support developing countries as they address the climate crisis by providing assistance with our own public resources and mobilizing support from the private sector, the multilateral development banks – including through critical, ongoing discussions about their reform and evolution–and other sources and working to make broader global finance flows aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement. 

We are also focused on minimizing the risks of sea level rise for small island and low-lying states and working to address its impacts through our policies and support.  This includes our commitment to preserve the legitimacy of states’ maritime zones, and associated rights and entitlements, that have been established consistent with international law.

In this context, the United States has engaged in discussions on this resolution with a view to considering how best we can advance our collective efforts.  We have considered this carefully, recognizing the priority that Vanuatu and other Small Island Developing States have placed on seeking an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice with the aim of advancing progress towards climate goals.

However, we have serious concerns that this process could complicate our collective efforts and will not bring us closer to achieving these shared goals.  We believe that launching a judicial process – especially given the broad scope of the questions – will likely accentuate disagreements and not be conducive to advancing ongoing diplomatic and negotiations processes.  In light of these concerns, the United States disagrees that this initiative is the best approach for achieving our shared goals, and takes this opportunity to reaffirm our view that diplomatic efforts are the best means by which to address the climate crisis.

While we recognize that this process will go forward in light of the significant support for the resolution, we underscore our continuing belief that successfully tackling the climate crisis is best achieved through doubling down on the types of diplomatic efforts that we are engaged in, including multilateral engagement under the Paris Agreement and other fora, plurilateral initiatives, and bilateral efforts that advance solutions to the multifaceted challenges caused by the climate crisis. 

The United States will welcome the opportunity to share our legal views and engage with states and the Court on the questions posed.  For now, we would like to share a few observations with respect to the text of the resolution:

First, with respect to the chapeau of the question, while the Paris Agreement sets forth certain climate change obligations (as well as many non-binding provisions), the reference to other treaties should not be understood to imply that each of those treaties contains obligations to ensure the protection of the climate system.  In addition, we emphasize that reference to certain principles and duties should not be understood as reflecting any conclusion about the nature, scope, or application of any such principles or duties to the question at hand.

Second, we note that the question asks about obligations and related legal consequences under those obligations for all states.  The question does not prejudge the nature of any such obligations or the legal consequences for any breaches of those obligations.  Nor does it presuppose that such breaches have occurred or are occurring, but asks about the consequences if and when they do, whether now or in the future. 

Finally, with respect to the preamble, we note that several of the paragraphs (such as those related to non-binding goals) address matters that are not related to legal obligations and thus are not relevant to the questions posed. In this regard, matters addressed in the preamble should not be assumed to have bearing on the Court’s advisory opinion.