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Reflections on the ITLOS Advisory Opinion

On 21 May 2024, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) ruled unanimously that 'pollution of the marine environment' includes anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions absorbed by the oceans, as GHG emissions have harmful effects on marine ecosystems and marine life. The ruling covers all GHG emissions introduced directly or indirectly to oceans, regardless of the emission source or proximity to the ocean. ITLOS's interpretation means that all GHG emissions constitute a form of ocean pollution that must be prevented, controlled, mitigated, and eventually reduced to the maximum extent possible.

The British Institute of International and Comparative Law (BIICL) held a Rapid Response Webinar Event on 30 May 2024, convening a panel of experts to discuss the legal implications of the ITLOS Advisory Opinion. The discussion touched on the potential application of the advisory opinion in future and ongoing climate-related cases, and addressed the larger normative impact of the advisory opinion.

The event was convened by Kristin Hausler, Dorset Senior Research Fellow in Public International Law and Director of the Centre for International Law at BIICL. The chair of the event was Dr. Constantinos Yiallourides, Research Leader in Law of the Sea at BIICL. The session featured presentations from three experts before questions were taken from the audience. The speakers presented in the following order: Prof. Dr. Christina Voigt, University of Oslo, chair of the IUCN World Commission on Environmental Law and lead legal counsel for the IUCN, laid out eight key aspects of the advisory opinion, highlighting how the ruling adds and maps onto the existing architecture of international conventions. Monica Feria-Tinta, Barrister at Twenty Essex, spoke on treaty interpretation with regards to UNCLOS. Finally, Dr. Ivano Alogna, Research Leader in Environmental and Climate Change Law at BIICL, addressed the advisory opinion's future connection and impact on corporate climate litigation.

This event report was prepared by Abigail Judge and Jenny Zhang. A draft of this report was circulated to the speakers for their endorsement and to make any clarifications or corrections prior to publication.

BIICL extends its gratitude to all the panellists for their outstanding contribution to the discussion and to all attendees for their support of the event.

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