Torres Strait Islanders Take On Australian Government Over Climate Change

Torres Strait Islands and climate change

Lawyers acting on behalf of a group of indigenous Australians from the Torres Strait region allege the Federal Government’s failure to act on climate change is violating fundamental human rights.

The Torres Strait Islands are a large group of small islands that lie in Torres Strait off Australia’s Cape York Peninsula. According to the 2016 Census, the islands are home to more than 4,500 people.

The lawyers involved with the case are associated with ClientEarth, which describes itself as a charity that uses the power of the law to protect the planet and the people who live on it.

“Rising seas put the Torres Strait Islanders at risk of becoming climate refugees in their own country,” tweeted ClientEarth yesterday. “They’re fighting back, and taking on the Australian government.”

The complaint has been submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Committee and is apparently the first of its type in the world.

“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,” said complainant and sixth-generation Warraber man, Kabay Tamu. “We are seeing this effect on our land and on the social and emotional wellbeing of our communities who practice culture and traditions.”

As well as requesting adequate coastal defence measures to help address problems created by rising tides, the Islanders are urging the Australian Government to slash the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in order to reduce impact in the future. While some may argue this action would be a drop in the global bucket, real action needs to start somewhere – and if the case is successful, other countries would have to sit up and take note.

The Islanders are asking the UN to find that international human rights law means that Australia must boost its emission reduction target to at least 65% below 2005 levels by 2030, reach net zero by 2050, and phase out coal.

“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,” said lead lawyer Sophie Marjanac.

The action is part of a broader campaign, Our Islands, Our Home, that includes a petition calling on the Prime Minister to protect Torres Strait Islanders.

The news of the complaint broke just a day after a 60 Minutes segment on the plight of the Solomon Islands went to air. Sea levels in that region are claimed to have risen over 15 centimetres – a “grim look into the future” for the rest of the world. A related article by Simon Albert, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Queensland who was featured on the 60 Minutes piece, was subsequently published .

About Michael Bloch

Michael caught the solar power bug after purchasing components to cobble together a small off-grid PV system in 2008. He's been reporting on Australian and international solar energy news ever since.


  1. bob downe says

    Look forward to seeing legal action against China & India!

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