The Guardian • Issue #2027


Landmark UN decision highlights Australia’s climate injustice

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2027

In news that will surprise no one, a United Nations Committee has found the former Coalition government to have violated the human rights of Torres Strait Islanders by failing to adequately respond to the climate crisis in what is being described as a “landmark decision.”

The historic legal win, which was released late last month, came after eight Torres Strait Islander people filed a complaint in 2019. Speaking on the news, Yessie Mosby, a Kulkalgal man and traditional owner on the island of Masig – who was also one of the case’s claimants – expressed his happiness with the news:

“This morning when I woke up on Masig, I saw that the sky was full of frigate birds. In my culture, we take this as a sign from my ancestors that we would be hearing good news very soon about this case.

“I know that our ancestors are rejoicing knowing that Torres Strait Islander voices are being heard throughout the world through this landmark case. Climate change affects our way of life everyday. This win gives us hope that we can protect our island homes, culture, and traditions for our kids and future generations to come.”

In its decision the UN Committee agreed that:

  • Climate change was indeed currently impacting the claimants’ daily lives;
  • To the extent that their rights are being violated; and,
  • That Australia’s poor climate record is a violation of their right to family life and right to culture under the global human rights treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

A minority also found that the government had violated their right to life.

The decision marks a number of firsts including: “the first time an international tribunal has found a country has violated human rights law through inadequate climate policy; the first time a nation state has been found responsible for their greenhouse gas emissions under international human rights law; and, the first time that peoples’ right to culture has been found to be at risk from climate impacts” (

Before its outing, the Morrison government had called for the case to be dismissed, citing “insufficient evidence that the consequences of climate change would affect the islanders’ enjoyment of their rights” (

However, the Albanese government has responded differently, stating it was committed to working with Torres Strait Islanders on Climate Action, with Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus stating:

“Soon after the change of government, the Prime Minister, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, and the Minister for Climate Change and Energy travelled to the Torres Strait to talk with elders and owners about the impacts of climate change on them … . The Australian government is considering the committee’s views and will provide its response in due course.”

The CPA applauds the landmark decision and holds that further dialogue with all Indigenous peoples across the world is important to proper land management and negating the effects of climate change.

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