Ocean court tells countries to cut climate pollution

By Sara Schonhardt | 05/22/2024 06:39 AM EDT

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea determined in its first climate change case that a global ocean convention extends to greenhouse gases.

Waves break on the shores of Tuvalu, a South Pacific island nation.

Small island nations like Tuvalu (pictured) brought a climate case to a court overseeing a global ocean convention. Torsten Blackwood/AFP via Getty Images

An international court governing the world’s oceans ruled Tuesday that countries must protect marine environments from climate change by cutting their planet-warming pollution.

The first-of-its-kind decision by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg, Germany, could have widespread implications on efforts to tackle global warming, including on future pledges countries make under the Paris Agreement, say legal experts. It could also be used to reduce carbon emissions from cargo ships and industrial facilities.

The 21-judge panel agreed unanimously that national obligations to protect oceans extend to greenhouse gases that are causing seawater temperatures to rise dramatically, and that countries must “take all necessary measures to prevent, reduce and control marine pollution” related to climate change.


The decision is not legally binding, but it could be used by courts in the 169 countries that are members of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, including major emitters such as China and the European Union. The United States is not a party to the convention.