November 22, 2018 / 6:13 AM / 18 days ago

Low-lying Vanuatu threatens to sue culprit countries for climate change

WELLINGTON, Nov 22 (Reuters) - Low-lying Vanuatu is considering suing fossil fuel companies and industrialised countries that use them for their role in creating catastrophic climate change, the foreign minister of the Pacific island nation said on Thursday.

Speaking at the Climate Vulnerable Forum’s Virtual Summit, Ralph Regenvanu said the impact of climate change is felt first and hardest by those who are least responsible for it.

“Vanuatu is on the front lines of climate change and yet we have benefited least from the exploitation of fossil fuels that has caused it,” Regenvanu said.

“My government is now exploring all avenues to utilize the judicial system in various jurisdictions - including under international law - to shift the costs of climate protection back on to fossil fuel companies, the financial institutions and the governments that actively and knowingly created this existential threat to my country,” he said in a video of the summit posted online.

Vanuatu, with an estimated population of 280,000 people spread across roughly 80 islands, is among the more than a dozen Pacific island nations that already face rising sea levels and more regular storms that can wipe out much of their economies.

Samoa, on behalf of the 18 Pacific island forum members, including Vanuatu, on Saturday called on leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) to pay more attention to climate change.

Samoa’s Prime Minister later told Reuters he wanted to see more done by Australia and the United States.

“Vanuatu’s brave announcement today is part of a global wave of legal action against oil, gas, and coal companies and laggard governments,” Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, said in a statement.

“Communities impacted by climate change are standing up and demanding that those responsible finally be held to account.”

Climate change lawsuits against big corporations and governments are on the rise.

The U.S. city of Baltimore filed a lawsuit in June against 26 oil and gas companies and entities, including BP Plc, Chevron Corp and Exxon Mobil Corp, for knowingly contributing to what the city called the catastrophic consequences of climate change. (Editing by Nick Macfie)

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