Torres Strait Islanders Are Going To The UN To Protest Australia’s Inaction On Climate Change

"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."

Torres Strait Islands

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A group of Torres Strait Islanders are making history today by lodging an official complaint with the United Nations over the Australian government’s inaction on climate change. They’re arguing that the government’s failure to act on climate change violates their human rights, and they’re calling for urgent action before it’s too late.

The complaint is being made by eight islanders from four different Torres Strait Islands, who say that climate change is already threatening their homes and sacred sites. They allege that by not taking adequate action on climate change, the Morrison government is violating multiple human rights, including the right to culture, as well as the right to a family and the right to life.

“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,” one of the complaint authors, sixth-generation Warraber man Kabay Tamu, said.

“We are seeing this effect on our land and on the social and emotional wellbeing of our communities who practice culture and traditions.”

“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. 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.”

The islanders’ complaint is being supported by environmental law non-profit ClientEarth, which has also set up a petition for Australians to help highlight the community’s demands to the Australian government. The islanders are calling on the government to commit at least $20 million for emergency protective measures such as seawalls, and to further invest in long-term adaptation measures to ensure that the Torres Strait Islands can continue to be inhabited.

They are also calling for the government to reduce Australia’s emissions by at least 65 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, reaching net zero emissions before 2050, and for the phasing out of all thermal coal.

ClimateEarth says the case is a world first legal action brought by inhabitants of low-lying islands against a nation state. The complaint is also the first human rights complaint about climate change brought against the Australian government.

“Climate change is 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,” ClientEarth’s lead lawyer for the case, Sophie 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.”

You can read more about the islanders’ case, and sign the petition to show your support, at the Our Islands, Our Home website.

Feature image by PeterTHarris via Wikimedia Commons.