For more than a decade, communities in Zenadth Kes (the Torres Strait) have been raising the alarm about climate change and rising sea levels. Under the new Labor government there has been a marked change in tone regarding climate change and the Torres Strait.

A month after taking office, Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen led a delegation to the Torres Strait to meet with elders and communities. He acknowledged that Torres Strait Islanders were ‘at the front line more than anybody in dealing with the impacts of climate change’.

A few weeks later, Bowen introduced a new Climate Change Bill to Parliament. If passed, this would see Australia make more substantial cuts to its greenhouse gas emissions - a minimum of 43% by 2030.

So what does this mean for the Australian Climate Case, a negligence case brought by Uncle Pabai and Uncle Paul, two Torres Strait Islander leaders with the support of UNSW affiliate Grata Fund?

Well, although Labor is promising to do more on climate than the Coalition, its commitments aren’t enough to ensure a strong and healthy future for people in the Torres Strait. 

Analysis by the Climate Council found that Australia would need to cut emissions by 74% by 2030 to prevent low-lying islands like Boigu and Saibai in the Torres Strait from becoming uninhabitable. 

Judge says prompt trial ‘in the public interest’

The Australian Climate Case now has a hearing set for 6 June 2023. Justice Mortimer has decided to split the trial in two, so that the court can go up to the Torres Strait and hear evidence on Country. 

Following a case management hearing in July, Justice Mortimer acknowledged the existential threat that climate change poses to communities in the Torres Strait:

There is no denying the unremitting march of the sea onto the islands of the Torres Strait. The reality for the people of the Torres Strait is that they risk losing their way of life, their homes, their gardens, the resources of the sea on which they have always depended and the graves of their ancestors.

Whether the Commonwealth has legal responsibility for that reality, as the applicants allege in this proceeding, is a different question. However, the reality facing Torres Strait Islanders gives this proceeding some considerable urgency. The applicants, and the Torres Strait Islanders they represent, are entitled to know whether the Commonwealth is legally responsible in the way alleged, or not.

Call for ‘climate witnesses’ to support the climate case

People across Australia are supporting the Australian Climate Case by sharing how they and their communities are being harmed by climate change. 

These stories of bushfires, drought, flooding and heatwaves illustrate how Australians from all walks of life are suffering as temperatures rise. 

Share your own story here. Every story, no matter how big or small, helps show how many people would benefit if Uncle Pabai and Uncle Paul’s case is successful.


Image credit: Talei Elu