It was part celebration and part tribute to a former ambassador Wednesday evening at the Millennium Hotel near the United Nations (UN). Prime Minister Ishmael Kalsakau of Vanuatu was the central dignitary at the gathering to announce the UN’s adoption of a resolution that asks the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to lay out obligations for protection of the planet’s climate, and possible legal consequences if they fail to comply.

Kalsakau cheered the adoption of the measure, and told the UN’s General Assembly that it sends “a loud and clear message not only around the world, but far into the future.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres echoed the prime minister’s comments, noting that “together, you are making history.” He added that a non-binding opinion from ICJ “would assist the General Assembly, the UN, and member states to take the bolder and stronger climate action that our world so desperately needs.”

The measure was co-sponsored by more than 130 member states and is certain to be hailed by the small Pacific islands and Vanuatu, which was recently ravaged by two cyclones.

At the evening celebration, Kalsakau saluted Robert Van Lierop, Vanuatu’s ambassador to the UN from 1981 to 1994. “I would like to thank Ambassador Van Lierop for his contribution and service,” Kalsakau said. He noted that Van Lierop was instrumental in bringing the conditions of the small island nations to world attention.

In accepting the honor, Van Lierop said the resolution was a solid step in the right direction, “but we still have a long way to go, but not as far as the New York Jets to the Super Bowl.”

The laughter the remark drew was an extension of the evening’s joyful reaction to the passing of the UN resolution. 

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