By Jim Hayes
This week, Torres Strait Islanders brought the first climate change litigation action against the Australian federal government, for its failure to act appropriately over global warming and the threat that this poses to their homeland.
The Torres straights are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, which to those living there, brings the ugly prospect that they will lose their homes and means of livelihood.
The region’s land and sea council, Gur A Baradharaw Kod (GBK), supports the action and is being represented by lawyers from leading environmental and not for profit law firm ClientEarth.
The case is being taken to the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations, on the grounds that the failure of the Australian government to act, amounts to a breech of human rights.
To perform its duty, the Torres Strait Islanders argue, it must act to reduce carbon emissions by at least 65 percent below the 2005 level by 2030. On the present trajectory, it is nowhere near meeting this minimum.
Climate change is threatening the very existence of these islands forming a part of Australia.
One of the individuals who have lodged the case, sixth-generation Warraber Island man, Kabay Tamu, says: “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.”
His people need the resources to protect their homes and are therefore working to build support for the passing of laws, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the 1.5 commitment that Australia gave at the time of signing the Paris Agreement.
GBK chair and Iama (Yam) Island traditional owner Ned David says: “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.”
There is an online petition, which will be delivered to the incoming prime minister after 18 May.