About the ‘Our Islands Our Home’ Campaign and the Torres Strait 8 case
Torres Strait 8 and 350.org, 2021
Our Islands Our Home is a campaign led by Torres Strait Islanders to protect their island homes. Torres Strait Islanders are on the frontline of the climate crisis, and urgent action is needed to ensure they can remain on their Islands. Rising sea levels, king tides, erosion, inundation and coral bleaching are threatening the homes and cultures of Torres Strait Islander people, while the Australian Government refuses to address the climate crisis. For over 60,000 years, Torres Strait Islanders have thrived on the islands in Zenadh Kes (the Torres Strait) – but rising sea levels, more extreme weather and coastal erosion caused by climate change are devouring some of the 17 inhabited islands in the region and threatening their way of life.
Scientific modelling suggests that some of the low-lying islands could become uninhabitable within decades if global temperatures keep rising at the current rate.
As part of the Our Islands Our Home campaign, eight Torres Strait Islander claimants, also known as the Torres Strait 8, have brought a landmark human rights complaint against the Australian Federal Government. The Torres Strait 8 lodged a complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 2019 against the Australian Government, alleging that its failure to reduce emissions or pursue proper adaptation measures across the region impedes their human rights to culture and life.
If the Torres Strait 8’s case is successful, it could set a precedent for Indigenous people globally. As of November 2021, the claimants are still awaiting an outcome from the UN regarding their case.
The claimants have five demands of the Australian Government:
- Fund adaptation programs that will allow Zenadh Kes communities to adapt to climate impacts
- Commit to going 100% renewables in Australia in the next 10 years
- Support Zenadh Kes communities to build community-owned renewable energy
- Transition away from fossil fuels as rapidly as possible through a just transition for workers
- Push the world to increase global ambition and keep warming to less than 1.5 degrees
The complaint was the first climate change litigation brought against the Australian Federal Government based on human rights, and the first legal action worldwide brought by inhabitants of low-lying islands against a nation state. Lawyers with environmental law non-profit ClientEarth, are representing the Torres Strait 8, with support from barristers from Twenty Essex in London. 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), environmental group 350 Australia as lead campaigner, and the Seed Youth Indigenous Climate Network.
The complaint asserts that by failing to take adequate action to reduce emissions or to implement proper adaptation measures on the islands, Australia is failing its legal human rights obligations to Torres Strait people. These are the right to life, rights to culture, the right to the protection of family and home, and the rights of children under one of the first global human rights treaties, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Australian Government’s response to the complaint states the case should be rejected because it concerns future risks, rather than impacts being felt now. The Australian Government’s lawyers also stated that because the country is not the main or only contributor to global warming, climate change action is not its legal responsibility under human rights law.
You can read more about the Torres Strait 8’s Our Islands Our Home campaign and sign the petition by visiting https://ourislandsourhome.com.au/
Our Islands Our Home is supported by 350.org Australia, ClientEarth, the environmental law charity supporting the UN complaint, the land and sea council Gur A Baradharaw Kod; and the Seed Youth Indigenous Climate Network.