UN Says Australia’s Climate Change Inaction Is A ‘Human Rights’ Violation

A United Nations committee determined Friday that Australia violated the rights of indigenous peoples inhabiting a group of nearby islands for failing to take action on climate change.

Torres Strait islanders filed a complaint to the UN in 2019 alleging that Australia’s sky-high carbon emissions contributed to the excessive rainfall buffeting the islands, destroying homes and ritual sites critical to their way of life. The UN committee on human rights agreed that Australia had failed to provide the islanders with infrastructure and funding assistance and asked the country to provide compensation.

The committee’s determination marked a “significant development” in creating a pathway for individuals to bring complaints before the UN when “national systems have failed to take appropriate measures to protect those most vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change,” committee member Hélène Tigroudja said in a statement.

She added that negligence on climate action could detract from so-called vulnerable populations’ “enjoyment of their human rights.”

Tidal surges in recent years have caused flooding on the islands of Boigu, Poruma, Warraber and Masig, where the eight Australian nationals who filed the complaint live, the complaint alleged. The waters have destroyed family graves, leaving human remains scattered across the islands and preventing islanders from practicing cultural rituals like communicating with deceased relatives.

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“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 islanders, in a statement to the U.S.-based environmental group 350.org, which backed the complaint.

Flooding has also rendered needed farmland and fishing locations unusable, according to the complaint.

“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,” Sophie Marjanac, the lead lawyer on the complaint, said.

The Australian government began construction on seawalls intended to block high tidal waves, scheduled for completion in 2023, but the UN said additional measures were required to protect the islands’ inhabitants.

“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,” Tigroudja said.

In the complaint, the Islanders said Australia should slash greenhouse gas emissions to at least 65% below 2005 levels. Australia’s Parliament approved a new climate plan on Sept. 13 that requires a 43% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 relative to 2005 levels.

Climate Action Tracker rates Australia’s greenhouse gas reduction progress as “insufficient.”

The islanders’ submitted their case amid a string of complaints to the UN alleging various countries’ refusal to take action on climate change amounted to human rights violations. However the UN Human Rights Committee declined to rule on a 2019 complaint by adolescent climate activists, including Greta Thunberg, saying that the cases would have to be taken to national courts, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The Australian Embassy did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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