The Islanders claimed their rights had been violated as Australia failed to adapt to climate change through upgrading seawalls on the islands and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, among other necessary measures.
“States that fail to protect individuals under their jurisdiction from the adverse effects of climate change may be violating their human rights under international law,” Ms. Tigroudja stated.
In the same decision, the Committee also indicated that despite Australia’s series of actions – such as new seawalls for the four islands by next year – additional timely and appropriate measures were required to prevent potential loss of life.
Moreover, the most important ceremonies, such as those for coming-of-age and initiation, are only culturally meaningful if performed in the community’s native lands.
The Committee issued its ground-breaking decision after examining a joint complaint filed by eight Australian nationals and six of their children – all indigenous inhabitants of Boigu, Poruma, Warraber and Masig, four small, low-lying islands in the country’s Torres Strait region.
For example, on Masig Island, the rising sea level has caused saltwater to seep into the soil and coconut trees to become diseased, subsequently killing off the fruit – an important part of the Islanders’ traditional diet.
The Islanders argued that changes in climate have triggered heavy rainfall and storms, degrading land and trees.
To remedy the situation, the members asked Australia to compensate the indigenous Islanders for the harm suffered, engage in meaningful consultations with their communities to assess their needs, and take measures to continue securing the communities’ safe existence on their respective islands.
In their complaint, the Islanders claimed that changes in weather patterns had direct, harmful consequences on their livelihood, culture, and traditional way of life.
The Committee decided that, under the Covenant, robust national and international efforts are needed to mitigate the effects of climate change, which otherwise may be a violation of the right to life.