In 2019, ClientEarth helped a group of eight Torres Strait Islander people make a ground-breaking complaint, alleging that Australia’s failure to act on climate change was violating their fundamental human rights.
The complaint alleged that the effects of Australia’s insufficient plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and its failure to fund coastal defences constituted a violation of their right to life, right to a family and right to culture under the UN’s first global treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
After years of dialogue with the Australian Government and official replies to the UN, on 23 September 2022 a majority of the UN Human Rights Committee agreed with the claimants stating that Australia’s climate inaction was a violation of their right to family life and right to culture.
The Committee has asked Australia to compensate the claimants for the harm suffered, and to do whatever needed to secure the communities’ safe existence. This was the very first legal action brought by climate-vulnerable inhabitants of low-lying islands against a nation state. It’s also the first time that an international tribunal has found a country has violated human rights law through inadequate climate policy, the first time a nation state has been found responsible for their greenhouse gas emissions under international human rights law, and the first time that Indigenous peoples’ right to culture has been found to be at risk from climate impacts.
You can read more about ClientEarth’s work in our latest Impact Report.