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Australia joins push for court to advise on climate

Australia is supporting Vanuatu's bid to have a top international court outline what responsibilities countries have to act on climate change.

The Pacific island nation is one of the most susceptible to the impacts of climate change and has asked the International Court of Justice to issue an advisory opinion on the issue.

More than 100 nations including Britain and New Zealand on top of a raft of European, Scandinavian, Southeast Asian and Pacific nations co-sponsored the move.

But some of the world's largest emitters including the United States, China and India haven't agreed to sponsor the push, which will come to a vote at the United Nations later in the year.

Any advisory opinion from the Hague-based court would be non-binding.

The Australian government has outlined climate change as an urgent challenge and the greatest threat to Pacific nations and security in the region.

Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister Tim Watts said Australia was concerned about the impact climate change would have on human rights around the world.

"Increased global ambition and urgent and impactful action on climate change is a priority for Australia," he told the United Nations General Assembly in Geneva on Thursday (AEDT).

"Pacific island countries are among the most climate-vulnerable communities in the world.

"We need these voices at the centre of international climate discussions."

The move has been welcomed by Oxfam Australia, who branded it a "step-up from the government".

"It demonstrates a willingness to listen to Pacific Island voices, who have been driving the campaign to ensure an adequate global response to the human rights crisis caused by climate change," it said in a statement.

The Pacific Islands Forum members re-committed to signing on to the push when leaders met in Fiji last week.

Vanuatu will host further ministerial dialogue with forum members in a fortnight.

The small nation is being battered by a cyclone with heavy rain and gale force winds forcing schools and businesses to close.

Australia pledged $30 million to enhance early weather warning systems in the Pacific and to increase climate resilience in the region.