The United Nations has determined that Australia’s inability to protect Torres Strait islanders from the effects of climate change has violated their right to enjoy their culture.
The UN has asked Australia to compensate the islanders for the damage suffered, to hold consultations to assess their needs and to take measures to continue to ensure the safe existence of the communities.
The decision by the UN Human Rights Commission follows a 2019 complaint from eight Australian citizens and six of their children from four small, low-lying islands.
The residents of Boigu, Poruma, Warraber and Masig claimed their rights had been violated when the Morrison government failed to adapt to improve sea defenses on the islands and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“The commission has created an avenue for individuals to make claims when national systems have failed to take appropriate action to protect those most vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change on the enjoyment of their human rights,” it said. committee member Hélène Tigroudja Friday evening. .
The islanders claimed that changes in weather patterns have had direct damaging effects on their livelihoods, culture and traditional way of life.
Floods caused by tidal waves have destroyed tombs and scattered human remains across the islands, while torrential rains and storms have eroded the land, reducing food availability for fishing and agriculture.
On Masig Island, rising seas have seeped salt water into the ground and sickened coconut trees.
Slow progress on seawall
The commission said that despite construction of new sea defenses in Australia on the four islands expected to be completed by 2023, additional measures are needed.
The commission’s decision expressed international concern that policies should be guided by the solutions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, according to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service.
While the government knows what communities need, it must be committed to true partnership, accountability and delivering results, said executive officer Jamie McConnachie.
“We have a right to culture. What must be revered is the principle that culture is an empowerment and that the delivery of services, policies and legislation must underlie Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander residents.
“There should be nothing about us or our country without us.”
Deep threat to cultures
The Climate Council welcomed the ruling, with research director Dr Simon Bradshaw saying the loss and damage experienced by the Torres Strait Islanders “embodies the injustice at the heart of the climate crisis”.
Climate change not only undermines physical security, but also poses a serious threat to the culture and deep connections of communities to their land and sea, he said.
“The Australian government must do everything it can to limit future damage by ensuring Australia’s emissions plummet this decade, leaving fossil fuels in the ground and providing much greater support to Torres Strait communities in adapting to the impacts of the impacts. climate change.”