Final Reflections: Climate Justice at the UN

Me after one of my planning meetings with the Mission and Blue Ocean Law for our upcoming conference in New York.

The Summer has come to a close, but my work with the Permanent Mission of Vanuatu isn’t over yet! As the school year is back in full swing, I have kept up my work with the team in New York managing our social media accounts and collaborating on our legal strategy. I’m looking forward to going to New York in October to join our team at our upcoming conference – make sure to follow our twitter account, @VanuatuUN, for more information! Until then, here are some final reflections on my time at the Mission:

What did you accomplish with your host organization? What was the impact of your work?

The work I did this summer with the Mission is ongoing and supported a lot of communication efforts with the campaign to bring climate change to the International Court of Justice. I hope that my work has contributed to the publicity of the campaign, and I know my blogs have been used as reference point for my boss when he explains the benefits of supporting this campaign in his bilateral meetings. By the end of my time with the Mission, I am also hoping that I can proudly report that we were successful in our endeavor to persuade the UN General Assembly to vote yes on an Advisory Opinion.

Describe the benefits of this experience for you professionally and personally?

On a professional level, this is the type I am interested pursuing a career in, so it was an incredible experience to be working on this campaign through the Mission. I’ve learned so much about international law and the inner workings of the United Nations, especially from a legal perspective. I’ve also been exposed to a lot of new organizations that I had never heard of before, many of which I may be interested in working for after graduation. On a personal level, this work was meaningful to me and I do feel like I am working towards a better future. I had such a wonderful experience working with the team at the Mission and I feel grateful that the CBE provided me with such a unique and fulfilling opportunity.

Did your experience provide any unexpected discovery, self-reflection, or epiphany?

My work centers around the humanity behind climate change, the real people and their stories. When we speak of the Pacific Islands being vulnerable to climate, we are speaking of people who are actively afraid of losing their home. We are speaking of people who have been fighting the western world for years to push for more drastic action through climate negotiations. And the western world has not listened. Time is of the essence. Working in the climate realm can be overwhelming; it is such a large problem and one that we cannot solve alone. It can be easy to get discouraged in this field. For me, it was reaffirming to be working with the Mission, to connect with people who continue to fight and have hope. It reminded why I am pursuing this degree, and why I want to work in this field.


Hey everyone! Can’t believe it’s already the end of August! That means we’re getting close to time for the UN General Assembly. Most fellows are wrapping up their internships, but I will be staying on this campaign through the duration of the fall, until we introduce the proposal. So what have I been up to this month? My teammate Samia Shell and I have been busy conducting interviews with Pacific youth to start a blog series on why we need an Advisory Opinion on climate, and how climate change is impacting way of life in the Pacific. The blog series is in tandem with the social media campaign we are launching! You can read up on our first interview with Kabweea Itintaake, a Fellow with the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and States Attorney at the Office of the Attorney General in Kiribati, on our blog site. You can also read my piece on the 2022 Peace Palace Conference in June that focused on the intersection of climate and international law. I’ve also been working on a few internal projects for the campaign and have been excited to have the opportunity to dive into legal work.

My team has been wonderful to work with, and I’m excited to continue this project! It’s easy to get lost in the academics of climate, but having the opportunity to sit down with Pacific youth and listen to the very real issues communities around the world are facing has been a humbling experience. Most of us chose to pursue International Environmental Policy because we want to make a difference for communities around the world, so it’s always important to keep those communities and people in the forefront of your mind. We will be hosting a conference similar to the one at the Peace Palace in New York this fall, so I look forward to helping organize that. I’ll leave you all with this picture of the sunrise during one of my early morning meetings – the only downside to working on EST from here in Monterey!

Sunrise from my bedroom window! The view makes remote working much easier.

Hope you all have a happy rest of your summer!

Taking the World’s Biggest Problem to the World’s Highest Court

Hey everyone! My, how time flies. Hope you’ve all been enjoying your summers, I’ve really been enjoying mine! For my summer internship, I’ve been working with the team at Vanuatu’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations on the campaign to bring the issue of transboundary harm and climate change to the world’s highest court, the International Court of Justice.

Location of Vanuatu. Photo Credit to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

As one of the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS), Vanuatu faces the disproportionate burden of climate change and the very harrowing reality that sea level rise is threatening the ancestral way of life. Already, Pacific Islanders face unprecedented storms and saltwater intrusion that has been destroying village infrastructure, agricultural production and threatens food security. And while Pacific Islanders bear this burden, they are not responsible for the share of emissions that has caused the issue. For years, nations most vulnerable to climate change have petitioned the developed world to address climate justice through negotiations within the global climate regime. Thus far, these negotiations have only produced empty promises. Now, climate vulnerable nations from around the world are seeking clarification on what the legal obligation of states are in regard to the climate crisis. Vanuatu has been leading this initiative with a proposal for the United Nations General Assembly to petition the International Court of Justice for and Advisory Opinion on this issue.

My work over the last few weeks has been busy, keeping up with a number of different related conferences, events and bilateral meetings that our team has been both hosting and attending in tandem with the UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon last month. I’ve been managing our social media accounts with my colleagues (follow us on Twitter! @VanuatuUN) as Ambassador Odo Tevi and the rest of the team were on the ground attending the Climate Change and International Law conference at the Peace Palace in the Hague, hosted by Blue Ocean Law and Leiden University, as well as our side event at the UN Ocean Conference. My blog on the Peace Palace conference is set to be published this week, and I look forward to sharing it with you all!

The movement has been gaining traction and has been trending in the news cycle thanks the support of the Pacific Island Forum, which concluded last week. I’m looking forward to continuing my work supporting the communications team and will be also assisting in planning our next conference in New York, so stay tuned for more updates as this exciting campaign unfolds! In the meantime, enjoy this picture of my colleague Samia Shell and I during our interview with Kabweea Itintaake, a fellow with AOSIS, on her perspective on the climate crisis as a native youth of Kiribati. Kabweea will be featured on our new instagram campaign, which I will be creating and launching this week, highlighting the experiences of youth in the Pacific and how climate has impacted their lives and their communities.

My colleague Samia Shell, top right, and I in our interview with Kabweea Itintaake, pictured top left. We were all smiles after an empowering conversation. Kabweea will be the first feature on our campaign instagram account!

I also want to thank those of you that support us as fellows at the Center for Blue Economy. I feel incredibly grateful to be working where I am now, and this opportunity to work in such a critical and challenging legal space would not be possible without our funders. Thank you to all who have supported this program.

Molly Ryan: Climate Change and Human Rights in Vanuatu

Permanent Mission of Vanuatu to the United Nations
June 13-September 5, 2022
New York, New York, USA

Vanuatu has announced its intentions to take on the campaign to seek an Advisory Opinion from the International Court of Justice on the issue of climate change and human rights, specifically to seek clarification of the legal duties of large emitters of greenhouse gases with respect to present and future generations. The campaign seeks to put this as a resolution to the United Nations General Assembly where all countries will be asked to vote on the Vanuatu proposal. Seeing greater leadership from states in supporting this resolution will be crucial for success. The Fellow will assist the Vanuatu legal and communications team on this campaign.