SYDNEY – Australian federal court officials on Monday began hearings on a lawsuit filed by a group of Torres Strait Islanders alleging the Australian government had failed to protect them from climate change, which threatens to destroy their homes.

The case, the first climate class action brought by Australia’s First Nations people, was filed in 2021 on behalf of the remote islands of Boigu and Saibai in the Torres Strait off Australia’s north coast.

The initial hearings will happen in the islands until June 19, with the court expected to hear from the islanders about the threats from rising sea to their culture, life and homes.

“From Saibai’s point of view, they say by 2029 most of the low-lying islands in the Torres Strait will go underwater, that is very true because Saibai and Boigu will be the very first islands to disappear,” Paul Kabai, one of the two plaintiffs, told Reuters.

The Torres Strait Islands face the threat of floods and salt ruining their soil as global warming leads to more storms and rising sea levels.

Plaintiffs are seeking court orders that require the federal government – which currently aims to reach net zero emissions by 2050 – to take more steps to hit that target earlier.

The case is being supported by a non-profit advocacy group, Grata Fund, and the Urgenda Foundation, and is being run by class action firm Phi Finney McDonald. – Reuters