Breaking News: Traditional Owners win world-first fight for climate action!

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Breaking News: Traditional Owners win world-first fight for climate action!

Some big news has hit this week in the world of climate action - the UN (yep, the big global organization that Australia is part of) have declared that the Australian Government has a responsibility to Traditional Owners take action on climate!

This is huge news for climate justice all over the world. Why exactly? Dig into all the euphorically chunky details with us to find out, climate champions!

What’s the go?

In a world first, the UN has declared that the Australian Government has a responsibility to take action on climate change to protect Traditional Owners in the Torres Strait who are vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis.

Importantly, the UN requested the Australian government to compensate Traditional Owners from the islands of Boigu, Poruma, Warraber and Masig for the harm they have suffered as well as to consult with Traditional Owners to assess their needs and take action to secure the communities’ safe existence. Urgent climate action alongside reparation payments must be the first step to climate justice for Traditional Owners of the Torres Strait.

This decision is a huge win for Traditional Owners fighting for climate justice all over the world, as it sends a clear message to Governments that people are more important than fossil fuels!

How did this happen?

Before we dive into the chunky stuff, let’s talk through how this case came to the UN in the first place…

One of the communities impacted by the climate crisis are the Islands of the Torres Strait - a group of low-lying Islands that sit in the seas in the far North of Australia. Torres Strait Islanders have always called these islands home, but right now the climate crisis means that their homes, culture and community are all at risk of being washed away.

Rising sea levels, coastal erosion, unpredictable winds and destructive king tides are increasing problems in the Torres Strait, with roads, buildings and even cemeteries being washed away in recent years. This makes Traditional Owners at risk of being climate refugees in their own country during our lifetime.

A group of Torres Strait Islanders (called the Torres Strait 8) have been fighting for climate justice, taking their fight all the way to the UN in a world first human rights complaint. The claim is that the Government's inaction on climate has breached their right to culture and life.

This claim was lodged 3 years ago, but the old Government rejected the complaint saying that it cannot be held individually responsible for climate change because it is a global problem and impacts from climate change was a future problem, not one now*.

*What about the last five years of droughts, fires and floods in Australia?!*

Why is climate justice so important here?

As you might know, First Nations communities are often on the frontline of climate change - having a strong, close connection to country means that Traditional Owners are often vulnerable to impacts caused by the climate crisis.

Not only do Traditional Owners have to deal with environmental threats to country from fossil fuel extraction, Traditional Owners are also impacted indirectly by fossil fuels being burned because fossil fuels are the reason we have the climate crisis in the first place!

This is why we talk about climate justice rather than just climate action - because it’s not fair that those who have done the least to contribute to the problem are stuck dealing with the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

Why is this decision so important?

This is the first time a claim of this kind has been taken to the UN Human Rights Committee - and it’s a major win for people and the planet that the UN agrees with the Torres Strait 8 Claim!

This win is especially important because of the message it sends to other First Nations communities - First Nations voices are powerful! It's clear that First Nations communities are leading the way in climate action, and First Nations experiences, solutions and leadership need to be at the center of climate justice.

Globally, this win is also important because it's the first case brought by very climate-vulnerable people against their own Government’s climate policy and inaction. It also calls for compensation, which is an important part of climate justice. The fact that the UN agrees with the claim is a groundbreaking moment that shows very clearly that human rights are more important than the rights of big fossil fuel companies aiming to get rich from extracting and burning new fossil fuels. In the words of Lizzo; it’s about damn time!

So what’s next?

This decision is just one step of a campaign from Our Islands our Home to get the Government to take urgent action on climate and support the Torres Strait to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

We all know our old Government completely missed the boat on climate action, which is why it's so important the new Government actually listens to First Nations leadership and takes action to stop more fossil fuels being extracted and burned. This means no new coal or gas!

Want to take action?

We do too! Sign the petition at Our Islands our Home, calling on the Government to take urgent action to protect their island homes from climate change.