Torres Strait Islanders take action on ‘catastrophic’ effects of climate change
13 May 2019 at 4:22 pm
A group of Torres Strait Islanders is lodging a human rights complaint with the United Nations against the Australian government over alleged inaction on climate change.
The complaint says the government has failed in its human rights obligations to Torres Strait Islander people by not taking appropriate action to reduce emissions or building proper adaptation measures on the islands.
The case is led by environmental law not for profit ClientEarth, which says it will be the first climate change litigation brought against the Australian federal government based on human rights.
One complainant, sixth-generation Warraber man Kabay Tamu, said: “We’re currently seeing the effects of climate change on our islands daily, with rising seas, tidal surges, coastal erosion and inundation of our communities.
“We are seeing this effect on our land and on the social and emotional wellbeing of our communities who practice culture and traditions.”
The case will be taken to the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva, Switzerland, over the threat to Torres Strait Islander culture and the complainants’ ability to live on their home islands.
“If climate change means we’re forced to move away and become climate refugees in our own country, I fear this will be colonisation all over again,” Tamu said.
“Because when you’re colonised, you’re taken away from your land and you’re forced to stop using your language and stop practising your culture and traditions.”
ClientEarth’s lead lawyer for the case, Sophie Marjanac, said climate change was fundamentally a human rights issue.
“The predicted impacts of climate change in the Torres Strait, including the inundation of ancestral homelands, would be catastrophic for its people,” Marjanac said.
“Australia’s continued failure to build infrastructure to protect the islands, and to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, constitutes a clear violation of the islanders’ rights to culture, family and life.”
The case is also supported by Gur A Baradharaw Kod (GBK), a Torres Strait land and sea council that represents the traditional owners.
GBK chairman Ned David said this claim was about ensuring the Torres Strait’s traditional culture survived climate change.
He said the Australian government needed to act quickly.
“We extend an invitation to Australia’s next prime minister, whoever that is after this week’s federal election, to visit our islands, see the situation for themselves and commit to protecting First Nation peoples on the climate frontline,” Kelly said.
The group is also launching an online petition with their demands for the Australian government, which include reducing Australia’s emissions by at least 65 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and going net zero before 2050.
They also want at least $20 million committed for emergency measures such as seawalls, and sustained investment in long-term adaptation measures so the islands can continue to be lived on.
The petition is hosted by grassroots climate action group 350.org, and co-founder Bill McKibben said he supported this action being taken.
“The Torres Strait islands have been settled for millennia, but if the Australian government continues on its present course they may not last the century. This lawsuit is part of an epic fight to hold the carbon barons accountable for wrecking the one planet we’ve got,” McKibben said.