Torres Strait Islanders are bringing the first climate change case against the Australian federal government over human rights.

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“We have a right to practice our culture in our traditional homeland, where we belong. Our culture has a value that no money could ever compensate for. Our culture starts here on the land. It is how we are connected with the land and the sea. You wash away the land and it is like a piece of us you are taking away.” – Kabay Tamu, Warraber

Torres Strait Islanders are bringing the first climate change case against the Australian federal government over human rights.Supported by the region’s land and sea council Gur A Baradharaw Kod (GBK) and represented by leading environmental lawyers from ClientEarth, Torres Strait Islanders are bringing a human rights complaint against Australia to the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations, over the Government’s inaction on climate change. This case would be the first of its kind in the world.

The Torres Strait is a pristine wilderness region, containing the most northerly part the Great Barrier Reef. The area is home to one of the world’s oldest living cultures, as well as rare species such as endangered turtles and dugongs.


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But climate change is putting life on these islands at risk.

Advancing seas are already threatening homes, as well as damaging burial grounds and sacred cultural sites. Many Islanders are worried that their islands could quite literally disappear in their lifetimes without urgent action, with severe impacts on their ability to practice their law and culture.

Rising sea temperatures are also affecting the health of marine environments throughout the Torres Strait, through coral bleaching and ocean acidification. If the reefs and the marine life that depends on them are damaged, the islander way of life could also be at risk.

Right now, the Australian government has insufficient policies to meet its low emissions reduction target of 26-28% by 2030. Scientists say this target needs to be increased to protect the world’s most climate vulnerable populations, and for there to be any chance of saving the islands and the Great Barrier Reef.

The Islanders will ask the Human Rights Committee to find that international human rights law means that Australia must meet the 1.5 degree temperature target of the Paris Agreement by increasing its emission reduction target to at least 65% below 2005 levels by 2030, going net zero by 2050, and phasing out coal.

Despite these facts, the Australian federal government acts as a powerful advocate for the fossil fuel industry, ignoring the existential threats the people in the Strait face.

Supporting the Torres Strait Islander community, this campaign will push to make sure that the Australian government is doing everything it can to support the people of the Strait with the resources they need to protect the islands from climate change, and to mobilise Australia to pass laws to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with its commitments to a 1.5 degree target under the Paris Agreement.

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