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Torres Strait islanders take legal action against Australian government over failure to act on climate change

A group of Torres Strait islanders have taken legal action against the Australian government, saying it's failed to act on climate change and, in doing so, violated their human rights.

Eight islanders are taking the case under international human rights law.

They lodged their complaint at the UN's Human Rights Committee in Geneva today.

Around 4500 people live in the Torres Strait islands, a group of about 200 low-lying islands between northern Queensland and Papua New Guinea.

The islanders say they're regularly faced with the effects of climate change - high tides, flooding, rising sea levels and erosion.

"This erosion is happening so fast, scary, there won't be us left," said Yessie Mosby, who lives on Masig island.

Boigu Island resident Keith Pabi said flooding is a regular event, adding, "Water comes over the sea wall and I have never experienced such big tides in the past."

Environmental law firm ClientEarth is acting for the islanders pro-bono.

Lawyer Sophie Marjanac says the islanders' rights to family, culture and self-determination are being violated by the Australian government's failure to help them adapt to climate change.

"It's clearly a human rights crisis unfolding in the Torres Strait," said Ms Marjanac.

The Torres Strait islanders have deep spiritual ties to the land. Attending the graves of their ancestors is an important part of their culture, but they are regularly flooded.

Ms Marjanac said if the islanders were forced to leave their home it would be a serious breach of their rights. "It demonstrates, I think, how that right to culture is really being physically affected by changes to the environment caused by climate change," she said.

But islanders are adamant they won't leave their land. They want the Australian government to come up with long-term strategies to help them adapt to climate change.

"This is my home. God placed me on this island and I don't want to see this place, you know, the ocean, just swallow it," said Nazareth Fauid.

The case is expected to have implications for other low-lying islands like Kiribati and the Marshall islands, with the UN committee that is hearing the case having to set out what the standard of state responsibility is for mitigating and helping vulnerable populations.

In New Zealand, Māori will be following the case closely. A spokesman for the Iwi Climate Change Forum, Mike Smith, said, "We understand and support the case brought forward by the islanders."

Mr Smith said governments open themselves to court action in the absence of legally-binding mechanisms to combat climate change.

The UN committee's decision won't be binding but lawyers are hoping it will carry significant moral weight which will shame nations into action.

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His visit comes as a group of Torres Strait islanders have filed a lawsuit against the Australian government saying it's failed to act on climate change. Source: 1 NEWS