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Petition of Torres Strait Islanders to the United Nations Human Rights Committee Alleging Violations Stemming from Australia's Inaction on Climate Change

Jurisdiction: United Nations Human Rights Committee

Side A: Torres Strait Islanders (Individual)

Side B: Australia (Government)

Core objectives: Whether Australia violated the human rights of low-lying islanders through failure to act on climate change

A group of eight Torres Strait Islanders submitted a petition against the Australian government to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. The petition alleges that Australia is violating the plaintiffs' fundamental human rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) due to the government's failure to address climate change. This petition represents the first climate change legal action in Australia that makes an argument based on a violation of human rights. It also constitutes the first legal action filed with a UN body by inhabitants of low-lying islands against a national government for inaction on climate change. 

The plaintiffs inhabit a group of islands off the northern tip of Queensland, Australia, between the Australian mainland and Papua New Guinea. These low-lying island communities are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts including sea level rise, storm surge, coral bleaching, and ocean acidification. According to materials released by the plaintiffs, the complaint alleges that Australia's insufficient action on climate change has violated the following rights under the ICCPR: Article 27 (the right to culture), Article 17 (the right to be free from arbitrary interference with privacy, family and home), and Article 6 (the right to life). The complaint further argues these violations stem from both insufficient targets and plans to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and inadequate funding for coastal defense and resilience measures on the islands, such as seawalls.

On August 13, 2020, Australia asked the Committee to dismiss the petition.
Case documents

from the Grantham Research Institute
from the Grantham Research Institute
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