Climate threatened Torres Strait Islanders bring human rights claim against Australia

A group of Australian citizens, Torres Strait Islanders are bringing the first climate change litigation against the Australian federal government based on human rights.

Eight islanders from four different Torres Strait islands are making the complaint, including: Yessie Mosby and Nazareth Warria of Masig (Yorke Island); Keith Pabai and Stanley Marama of Boigu; Nazareth Fauid of Poruma (Coconut Island); Ted Billy, Daniel Billy and Kabay Tamu of Warraber (Sue Island).

The claim is supported by the Torres Strait’s leading land and sea council that represents the regions’ traditional owners, Gur A Baradharaw Kod (GBK). Lawyers with environmental law non-profit ClientEarth, are representing the islanders, with support from barristers from 20 Essex Street Chambers in London.

One of the complaint authors and 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.

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“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.”

350 Australia is supporting the legal action and applaud the Islanders for standing up.

“This is a very difficult thing to do. But watching your beautiful island homes being ravaged by the impacts of climate change while your own government fails to act will make you do things you never thought you would have to. As fellow Torres Strait Islander, Eddie Mabo realised so many years ago,” stated Glen Klatovsky, CEO of 350 Australia.

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350 founder, Bill McKibben, stated: “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.”

Australian climate lawyer and ClientEarth’s lead lawyer for the case, Sophie Marjanac said: “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.

GBK chairman and Iama (Yam Island) Traditional Owner Ned David said: “The Australian government needs to act, and 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.”

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The claimants today launched a national petition campaign highlighting their asks for the Australian government, which include:

Committing at least $20 million for emergency measures such as seawalls, as requested by local authorities – and sustained investment in long-term adaptation measures to ensure the islands can continue to be inhabited;
Reducing Australia’s emissions by at least 65% below 2005 levels by 2030 and going net zero before 2050; and,
Phasing out thermal coal, both for domestic electricity generation and export markets.