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#GlobalWarming & #ClimateChange News Desk – It is painful for Gada Maluyligal man Pabai Pabai to watch his community and homelands “suffer” from the ongoing impacts of the climate crisis
We are here suffering and we are calling on the government for help,” Uncle Pabai says.
I [was] born to this land and I die to this land. That’s how significant it is to me.”
From the crocodile clan on the island of Boigu in the Torres Strait, Uncle Pabai is a proud father of five daughters and two sons and is fighting for the survival of his cultural land for generations to come.
Rising sea levels and increasing severe weather events are damaging houses, gravesites, sacred cultural landmarks, and food sources.
This is our land that has been handed down the generations by our forefathers … I’m sitting here fighting the government about my people’s land here on Boigu,” he says.
This week, the Federal Court visited the islands of Boigu and Badu as part of an ongoing landmark climate case to see firsthand what worries Uncle Pabai and his community.
“The main reason I am taking the court out to my island [is] so they will see I am telling the truth,” he says.
Court witnesses firsthand impact of climate change
The Boigu community hall turned into a courtroom this week for on-country hearings in the landmark Federal Court case.(Supplied: Ruby Mitchell)none
As court representatives touched down on the island of Boigu on Monday, they were greeted by the cheers of local school children.
The court was welcomed to country by community elders and held a one-minute silence in respect for ongoing Sorry Business.
Following tradition, Justice Michael Wigney was presented with a yam leaf — the symbol of peace.Justice Michael Wigney of the Federal Court is welcomed to Boigu Island.(Supplied: Ruby Mitchell)none
Heavy rainfall on the corrugated iron roof could be heard during much of the first day’s proceedings, which Justice Wigney noted was “somewhat ironic” given it is the region’s current dry season.
As the rains cleared on Tuesday and Wednesday, the court left the community hall, visiting culturally significant sites around the island to help understand the force of the climate crises.
But it was through Uncle Pabai and another elder Uncle Fred’s cultural knowledge that brought the evidence to life.
“The most significant area I took the judge to was out to the main first settlement of this community [where] the significant trees are still in place,” Uncle Pabai says.
Standing firm on the foreshore of Boigu Island surrounding the local church are a couple of “spy” and “skull trees”. According to Uncle Pabai, they have kept his community safe for generations.
“If we are gonna lose those trees, we will come to a place that will be no longer here because of the spiritual connection that we are to those trees,” he told the court.
Boigu Island residents are also concerned about king tides.
Since 2018 the summer months have seen king tides peak over 4.4 metres leading to inundation of water throughout the communities.Uncle Paul Kabai describing the erosion only metres away from the island’s sewerage treatment plant.(Supplied: Ruby Mitchell)none
The court was shown footage of a king tide in January, when water was seen splashing over the seawall and the town jetty was almost drowning in water.
Boigu is located in the northern cluster of islands in the Torres Strait and is around 6 kilometres from the shores of Papua New Guinea.
Uncle Pabai believes the rivers in Papua New Guinea are impacting the island too but, as the sea levels continue to rise, he wants to remind the government that he is a First Nations man.
“I brought the court to my island to show my people … we are part of Australia. To show that we are knocking on the government doors and saying what my community needs and that we don’t want to be climate change refugees,” Uncle Pabai says.
A complex case
Uncle Pabai and Uncle Paul are suing the federal government, arguing the Commonwealth has a legal obligation to protect their communities from the effects of climate change.
If the applicants are successful they will seek damages and court orders requiring the federal government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
In his opening statements, Commonwealth representative Stephen Lloyd said matters of climate science were not in dispute and acknowledged that the Torres Strait Islands were vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, which were already being felt.
But he will argue that the Commonwealth has not breached its duty of care.
Uncle Pabai hopes the case could have the same far-reaching impact as the action brought by his countryman Eddie Kioki Mabo 31 years ago.Uncle Pabai Pabai speaking in the community hall on Boigu.(Supplied: Ruby Mitchell)none
“The majority of the families are fully supportive. I’m very proud of my community standing at my [back] to support me through this case,” he says.
“This is what happened to the Mabo case back in the day. Eddie Kioki Mabo did that to his own community and the government recognised him.
“My journey is pretty similar to the Mabo case and taking the court out to my community and showing the world this is going on.”
‘It will affect all of us’
Climate experts like Simon Bradshaw, research director at the Climate Council, have frequently criticised the Australian government as inadequate and failing to reach international standards.
“We’ve got to do much more than that global average. We should be aiming to reduce emissions by 75 per cent by 2030 and achieving net zero soon thereafter,” Dr Bradshaw says.
Australia is currently committed to reducing emissions by 43 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, but Dr Bradshaw says what happens now will have “profound implications” for island communities around the world.
“The pace of emissions reductions now through to the 2020s — that is going to determine whether there is a future for the people of the Torres Strait Islands and other communities,” he says.
“It’s communities that have contributed the least [to climate change] … that are being hit first and hardest.”
Dr Bradshaw notes many Australians have already been “directly impacted” by the effects of climate change in other parts of the country during the recent floods and the 2019 and 2020 bushfires.
“It will affect all of us,” he says.
“We must listen to communities on the front lines. We must be taking commensurate action in line with the science. We ignore those warnings at our peril.”
On-country hearings will continue next week on the island of Saibai, before moving to Cairns………………..If you’re unable to load the form, you can access it here.
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