Torres Strait Islander leader says region ‘neglected’, following deal from United Nations Climate Change Conference

A Torres Strait Islander leader who was part of a historic legal victory over climate change says COP27 summit deal and Australia’s pledge to a fund for developing countries will do nothing to help his community on the “front line” of climate change.

Yessie Mosby, a traditional owner of Masig Island, is a member of the Torres Strait Eight, a group that won a lawsuit against the Australian government at the United Nations Human Rights Committee over climate change inaction.

Mosby, who attended COP27, said the group wants to see more mitigation and prevention measures, including a commitment to phase out fossil fuels.

“Australia is the country on Earth that has two indigenous races of people that are the oldest surviving cultures on Earth, and having overlooked them and sitting on the corner where they don’t even bother to look around to have a look at them, it’s sad,” she said.

“We are on the front lines.”

Mosby said the climate deal the countries reached, including a loss and damage fund for vulnerable countries, would not help his region off far north Queensland.

Mr Mosby and one of his sons attended COP27 to share the impact of climate change on their community.(Provided: Facebook)

He questioned Australia’s contribution to the fund, saying its own indigenous communities were already suffering from the impacts of climate change.

“Every year, every day, every month, every week goes by, we see changes in our islands, and not just in our islands, but also in the natural environment, the birds, the marine life,” he said.

“The island is devoured”.

Families in the Torres Strait have previously had to move traditional burial sites due to storm surges and flooding.

Mosby said he shared these stories with other nations on the climate front at the conference.

“It was a very emotional story when they heard the stories about my son and me, and how we collected our grandmother’s bones,” she said.

“We all have different stories, but the same cry.”

Orange flags and sandbags surround a stretch of beach with blue skies and rolling waves in the background.
Sandbags and fences protect an ancestral Aboriginal burial site on Muralug Island.(Provided: Michael Westaway)

He said he understood the need to help other developing nations, but felt the Torres Strait was being overlooked.

“It’s Australia’s obligation to look after its Pacific brothers and sisters as well, but again we feel neglected by that,” Mosby said.

“How can you try to help your neighbor if you can’t clean your garden first?

“I don’t see that my people, the Torres Strait Islanders, will benefit from anything, and if they do, they’ll probably just give us crumbs.”

In a statement, Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen said the Albanian government knows that First Nations communities are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of disasters and climate change and the government is working in partnership with community to reduce these impacts.

He said the government had announced $15.9 million for a new Torres Strait Climate Center of Excellence and $83.8 million to develop and implement First Nations community microgrid projects in Aboriginal and Indigenous communities. Torres Strait Islands.

“Together, Commonwealth, state and territory governments will co-design a clean energy strategy as well as First Nations people,” Bowen said.

“This clean energy strategy, the first of its kind in Australia, will provide a pathway for First Nations to have a greater say in setting priorities for the National Energy Transformation Partnership and participate in the design, development and implementation of energy policies and programmes.”

Climate justice

Associate professor of international relations at the University of Queensland Matt McDonald said the agreement on the loss and damage fund was a positive step for climate justice, but Australia was in a difficult position.

“The loss and damage fund is really about providing resources for those countries to be able to offset the effects of those changes, given that they are not particularly responsible for setting them up,” he said.

The man in a blue shirt and shorts walks along the beach.
Yessie Mosby and seven other Torres Strait leaders successfully brought the government to the United Nations Human Rights Committee on Climate Change Inaction.(ABC News: Alex McDonald)

“It might be a bit politicized, if you see that Australia is making significant contributions to a fund that facilitates payments to outside communities, but at the same time isn’t doing enough to even try to insulate parts of Australia from the effects climate change, or really try to invest funds in those communities to help them.”

Dr McDonald said the downside of the COP27 deal was that it did not directly address the causes of climate change.

“We haven’t seen significant new commitments in terms of reducing emissions … moving away from fossil fuels, and these are the kinds of things that will actually help address climate change, not just address the economic costs,” he he said.

Mr Mosby said his island community was looking for a commitment to keep fossil fuels in the ground and switch to 100% renewable sources.

A monument on an island with the ocean and palm trees in the background.
Sea level rise has damaged food sources and ancestral burial sites on many Torres Strait Islands.(ABC News: Alex McDonald)

He called on government representatives to travel to the Torres Strait Islands to sit down with community leaders.

“We’ve been monitoring our land for hundreds and thousands of years,” he said.

“Ancient laws that we have respected and taken care of our home, and the knowledge we have of our home and the surrounding areas of the sea.

“Having the government come to work with us and come up with a safer solution will be beneficial for our future.”

Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen said the government recently announced $15.9 million for a new Torres Strait Climate Center of Excellence to “deliver a coordinated regional response to climate change”.

He said the Commonwealth and State and Territory governments would also co-design a clean energy strategy with people from First Nationals.

Bowen said the strategy is unique in Australia and would provide a pathway for First Nations to “participate in the design, development and implementation of energy policies and programmes”.

He said the complaint to the United Nations was filed in 2019 under the previous government.

“The Australian Government is evaluating the committee’s views and will provide its response in due course.”

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