Australia is stubborn when it comes to climate targets. Even pressure exerted by US President Joe Biden at a virtual summit in April could prompt Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to improve weak climate targets. So far, the country wants to reduce its emissions 26-28 percent below the 2005 level by 2030; And the goal of zero emissions by 2050 has not been officially announced.
Australia is one country that is already feeling vividly the impacts of climate change. Residents of the Torres Strait Islands, a group of more than 100 islands located between the Cape York Peninsula at the tip of Australia and the coast of Papua New Guinea, have been living in their homes and areas for years with rising sea levels, extreme weather and coastal erosion threatening their lifestyle.
Early in 2008, a case study described impacts on turtle nesting, birdlife, and seaweed in the area. “They feel that their lives are in danger, both physically and culturally,” said the study of islanders. After more than ten years, the situation is becoming more dramatic: island resident Yessie Mosby said in an interview with Australian broadcaster ABC, that climate change has made its island – Maciej Island – an increasingly desolate place.
[Wenn Sie alle aktuellen Nachrichten live auf Ihr Handy haben wollen, empfehlen wir Ihnen unsere runderneuerte App, die Sie hier für Apple- und Android-Geräte herunterladen können.]
For example, the well of the island became salty due to the entry of sea water, and the coral reefs in front of the island died. “A coral reef looks like a desert,” Mosby said. The situation is similar on the other islands: on Buruma, a somewhat smaller and narrower island, a farmhouse of 250 coconut palms has already been washed into the sea. The road and buildings on the western side of the island are also at risk.
According to predictions, some islands will not be habitable anytime soon
Scientific models indicate that some low-lying islands could become uninhabitable within decades if global temperatures continue to rise. “In this case we will become climate refugees in our country,” said Kabai Tamu, a resident of Warrabor Island. “When I think about it, tears run down my eyes sometimes.”
Early in 2019, Tammo and Mosby, along with seven other islanders, filed a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva. In the petition, islanders accused the Australian government of violating their human rights by failing to take appropriate action against climate change. At the time, Tammo wrote in a statement that he feared climate change would once again lead to a kind of colonialism if his people were forced to leave their country and could no longer live out their language, culture and traditions.
The Australian government rejects these allegations. As a result, it asked the Human Rights Committee in August to dismiss the petition. Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken White always assures local media that the government is convinced that “its climate policy is in line with international human rights obligations.” In addition, the goal is not to leave islanders alone, but to help them build infrastructure – such as sea walls. At the start of 2018, for example, emergency funding of 650,000 Australian dollars (roughly 420,000 euros) was approved for Buruma to protect the endangered West Bank of the island. Special sandbags that have been used for wall instead of rocks or bricks only have a life span of around 50 years.
Torres Street residents are running out of time. If scientific predictions are fulfilled and the sea level in their area rises by about 80 cm by the end of the century, it will have even more devastating effects on the islands. During the UN Climate Summit in New York in 2019, Kabay Tamo asked Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to visit his Warber Island to see for himself the effects of climate change. However, the politician later refused the invitation by email.