Tue, May 14, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Islanders to sue Canberra for inaction

CLIMATE CHANGE:Eight Torres Strait Islanders were to file a UN complaint, saying Australia has failed to cut carbon emissions and adopt measures to save the islands

Reuters, MELBOURNE, Australia

A group of islanders off Australia’s north coast were yesterday set to file a human rights complaint to the UN against the Australian government over inaction on climate change, which they say is threatening their homes, their lawyers said.

The complaint by eight Torres Strait Islanders marks the first climate change litigation brought against Australia based on human rights, said ClientEarth, the UK-based law firm handling the complaint.

“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 Kabay Tamu, one of the eight.

Torres Strait Islanders are part of Australia’s indigenous population, along with Aborigines, who live on small islands between Australia and Papua New Guinea.

A spokesman for Australian Minister for the Environment Melissa Price said the government was committed to addressing climate change by meeting its international targets, investing in renewable energy technology and protecting the environment.

“We are investing A$3 million [US$2.1 million] to deliver against the environmental management component of the Torres Strait Development Plan, which includes addressing local climate change issues,” he said in an e-mail.

The claimants, backed by US environmental group 350.org, also launched a petition highlighting they want the Australian government to commit at least A$20 million for measures, such as seawalls, to shield the islands from rising sea levels.

“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,” lead lawyer Sophie Marjanac said in a statement.

The islanders also want Australia to cut carbon emissions by at least 65 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, which would be far more ambitious than the targets set by the conservative government and the opposition Labor Party.

At the same time they want thermal coal to be phased out in domestic power generation and for export. Thermal coal is Australia’s fourth-biggest resources export.

“These are some of the most climate-vulnerable villages and islands in the world,” Marjanac said. “They are very exposed.”

“The science is really stark for these communities about what the future holds — they need serious assistance to adapt and to remain on their islands because ... they’re already experiencing regular inundations,” she added.

Australia, one of the world’s largest carbon emitters per capita because of its reliance on coal-fired power plants, is among 185 countries that have ratified the Paris Agreement to tackle global warming.

Under the pact, Canberra has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

However, last year, the government stripped requirements for cutting emissions from its centerpiece energy policy in the face of political opposition.

In January, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said that Australia needed to cut carbon emissions more sharply to meet its Paris accord target.

The UN complaint, which lawyers said could take up to three years for a ruling, would be the first climate change litigation brought against the Australian federal government based on human rights, ClientEarth said.

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