By Celine Lai
Zenadth Kes, otherwise known as the Torres Strait Islands, lie off the northern tip of Queensland and are home to unique Indigenous cultures. Right now, sea level rise, erosion and coral bleaching are threatening the homes and cultures of Torres Strait Islanders.
If nothing substantial is done about climate change, Torres Strait Islander peoples will become climate change refugees in their own country.
Artwork by @mooki.pen
Eight Torres Strait Islanders, also known as the #TorresStrait8, lodged a landmark case to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 2019, demanding that Australia rapidly reduces its emissions, and immediately resources adaptation needs.
This is the first case of its kind.
The claimants have five demands of the Australian Government:
- Fund adaptation programs that will allow Zenadth Kes communities to adapt to climate impacts
- Commit to going 100% renewable in Australia in the next 10 years
- Support Zenadth 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 climate ambition and keep warming to less than 1.5 degrees
‘For generations, Indigenous Australians have thrived on the islands in the Torres Strait – but rising sea levels, more extreme weather and coastal erosion 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.’
One of the Torres Strait 8, Yessie Mosby, says that “fresh water from a well that once sustained generations of Torres Strait Islanders has now turned to salt water and parts of the reef around the island that were once abundant with shellfish are now filled with sand.”
London-based environmental lawyer Sophie Marjanac, who is working on the United Nations case, says Australian authorities need to plan for the worst — which means preparing to relocate some low-lying island communities.
“Our clients’ islands are between three and 10 metres above sea level, so they’re particularly vulnerable to the impacts of sea level rise,” she told ABC’s 7.30 news team.
The National Indigenous Times (NIT) states that legal experts appointed by the United Nations have supported the arguments of the Torres Strait 8, who are claiming the Australian Government’s sustained inaction on climate change is a breach of their human rights.
But the Morrison government is trying to play its “get out of jail free” card.
The NIT also says that government lawyers claim that because Australia is not the main or only contributor to global warming, it is not legally responsible to act against climate change under human rights law.
However, Dr Boyd, the current UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights and the Environment and Associate Professor of Law, Policy and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia, said human rights depend on a healthy environment, which includes a safe climate.
Momentum is building in the lead up to the UN Human Rights Committee decision on the claim – expected in 2021.
Whatever the outcome, it is clear that the current Australian Federal Government lacks understanding and care for the Torres Strait Islands and their living inhabitants. 350 Australia supports those on the frontline of the climate crisis, and advocates for action to safeguard Zenadth Kes.
You can help support the Torres8 movement by:
- Sharing this information
- Signing the Petition to call upon the Australian Federal Government to seriously consider the dangers and to mitigate them.
- Sharing the ABC’s 10 minute episode about this urgent challenge for the Torres Strait islanders.