The Legal Basis of Reparation Claim for Climate Change Damage under International Law: The Perspective of Vulnerable Developing Countries

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Addis Ababa University


There is unequivocal scientific consensus that the global climate is changing and that man-made GHG emissions have caused the warming observed since the 1950s. The principal cause for high level accumulation of GHGs in the atmosphere is that of burning of fossil fuels which are connected with the economic activities of industrialized world. This human-induced climate change is producing or will produce significant adverse effects on economies, people and environment of the international community. The impacts of climate change are experienced unevenly. Even if poor countries are least responsible for causing the problem, scientific predictions of impacts of climate change have demonstrated that they will suffer the most severe consequences of climate change. The legal regimes put in place are inadequate to tackle the global climate change problem. UNFCCC is a framework agreement and hence contain no specific binding commitments. Even if the Kyoto protocol to the convention imposed concrete obligation on developed states to reduce their GHG emissions by specific amount, these standards do not meet those recommended by climate scientists. Moreover, the worst emitters of GHG are either outside the protocol such as USA or have no binding reduction obligation such as China. In light of this regulatory failure, victims of climate change are warning that they are thinking ways to bring the worst emitters of GHGs to justice. The question that could arises is whether there is a legal basis under international legal framework that oblige the industrialized nations to compensate particularly vulnerable developing countries for inevitable damage and loss associated with climate change. The analysis in this thesis has shown that the climate change regime offer no opportunity for particularly vulnerable countries to oblige the worst GHG emitters to pay compensation for climate change damage. A better opportunity may indeed lie in appealing to primary rule of general international law and to the rules of state responsibility. The most important rule identified is that of the well-established rule of customary international law called the noharm rule. The no-harm rule requires states to prevent damage and to minimize the risk of damage to other states. The writer argue that despite remaining gaps and legal as well as factual problems, claims by particularly vulnerable developing countries against specified developed countries, alleging violation of the no-harm rule and seeking compensation would have a firm basis in international law. However, the writer is also of the opinion that to claim the discharge of the legal duty under the no-harm rule, instituting adjudication proceedings for several individual cases should not be the choice. The first choice must be that both the developed countries and the vulnerable developing countries should act in collaborative manner to establish a comprehensive and practical compensation scheme.



climate change, climate change damage, reparation, particularly vulnerable developing countries