Categories
Adaptation Australia Human Rights Committee Imminent risk Indigenous peoples' rights Private and family life Right to culture Right to life Sea-level rise

Torres Straits Islanders v. Australia

Summary:
This petition against Australia was brought to the UN Human Rights Committee by a group of eight Torres Straits Islanders in 2019. In their petition, they argued that the Australian government had violated their rights, as inhabitants of low-lying islands, under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) because of its inaction in addressing climate change.

Rights at stake:
The applicants in this case invoked a series of rights in the ICCPR. This includes Article 27 (the right to culture), Article 17 (the right to be free from arbitrary interference with privacy, family and home), and Article 6 (the right to life). They consider that the Australian government must ensure both mitigation and adaptation measures in order to adequately protect their rights.

Outcome:
The case is currently pending.

Categories
Adaptation Australia Domestic court Imminent risk Indigenous peoples' rights Sea-level rise Uncategorized Vulnerability

Australian Torres Straits Islanders case

Summary:
In the Australian Torres Straits Islanders case, modelled on the Dutch Urgenda case, a group of indigenous Torres Strait Islanders living on islands off Australia’s coast initiated domestic class action proceedings before the Federal court of Australia to claim that the Australian government has failed to protect them from climate change, leading to the progressive destruction of their ancestral islands.

Context:
In another, separate climate claim, a group of eight Torres Strait islanders took a Communication to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 2019, alleging that Australia had violated the human rights of low-lying islanders because of its failure to take climate action.

Petitioners:
This case was brought by two First Nations leaders on behalf of the remote Torres Strait islands of Boigu and Saibai. They brought the case on their own behalf and “on behalf of all persons who at any time during the period from about 1985 and continuing, are of Torres Strait Islander descent and suffered loss and damage as a result of the conduct of the Respondent”.

Arguments made:
Based on scientific evidence, the plaintiffs argue that climate change is already threatening their native title rights and distinctive customary culture. They allege that, due to the progression of climate change and the increasing storms and rising sea levels that result from this, they face an increasing threat of floods and of rising salt concentrations in their soil. Some islands, they argue, could become uninhabitable if the global temperature rises to levels more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. One of the plaintiffs noted that that his people have lived on the islands in question for over 65,000 years.

The plaintiffs allege that the Australian government owes a duty of care to Torres Strait Islanders. It must, in other words, take reasonable measures to protect them, their environment, their culture and their traditional way of life from the harms caused by climate change. Because current climate action and targets are not consistent with the best available climate science, they argue, this duty of care has been breached. They invoke the Torres Strait Treaty, which requires the Australian government to protect and preserve the marine environment in the region. The plaintiffs seek both mitigation and adaptation measures and rely on the duty of care recognized in the Sharma case.

Full text of the petition:
The full text of the petition is available at climatecasechart.com.

Categories
2018 Adaptation Domestic court Farming Human dignity Pakistan Right to a healthy environment Right to life

Leghari v. Pakistan

Summary:
In Leghari v. Pakistan, a farmer claimed that his fundamental rights, including the right to life, the right to a healthy environment and human dignity, had been violated by the failure to take action against climate change, which was already impacting Pakistan in the form of floods and other climactic changes. The High Court of Lahore granted his claims in 2015, finding that the government had failed to implement its own Climate Change Policy and the corresponding implementation framework. The Court created a Climate Change Commission to monitor the government’s response.

Arguments by the applicant:
The applicant submitted that the domestic National Climate Change Policy of 2012 and the Framework for its implementation had not been implemented. Absent strategies to transition to heat resilient crops or to conserve water, he argued, he would not be able to sustain his livelihood as a farmer. He submitted that this inaction had violated his fundamental rights, in particular, Article 9 (right to life, including the right to a healthy and clean environment) and Article 14 (human dignity) of the Constitution, along with the constitutional principles of social and economic justice. In doing so, he also invoked the principles of public trust, sustainable development, the precautionary principle and the principle of intergenerational equity. The most immediate and serious threat to Pakistan, he argued, concerned water, food and energy security.

Findings:
The High Court of Lahore granted Mr. Leghari’s claims on 4 September 2015, finding that “the delay and lethargy of the State in implementing the Framework offend the fundamental rights of the citizens.” It ordered the government to nominate “climate change focal persons” to help ensure the implementation of the domestic legal Framework and to identify action points. To monitor the government’s progress, it also created a Climate Change Commission made up of government representatives, NGOs, and technical experts. A supplemental decision of 14 September 2015 nominated 21 Commission members and granted this body various powers. On 25 January 2018, the Court considered a report from the Climate Change Committee finding that, until January 2017, 66% of the Framework for Implementation Climate Change Policy’s priority actions had been implemented. The Court accordingly dissolved the Climate Change Commission, creating a Standing Committee on Climate Change in its place.

In the 2018 judgment, the Court considered the need for environmental, climate and water justice, and the need for both mitigation and, in the specific case of Pakistan, adaptation measures in response to climate change. It noted that “we have to move on. The existing environmental jurisprudence has to be fashioned to meet the needs of something more urgent and overpowering i.e., Climate Change.” (para. 12). It held, too, that “[f]rom Environmental Justice, which was largely localized and limited to our own ecosystems and biodiversity, we have moved on to Climate Justice.” (para. 20).

Further reading:
Birsha Ohdedar, ‘Climate Change Litigation in India and Pakistan: Analyzing Opportunities and Challenges’, in Ivano Alogna, Christine Bakker, and Jean-Pierre Gauci (eds), Climate Change Litigation: Global Perspectives (Brill | Nijhoff 2021), 103-123,  https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004447615_006.

Ivan Mark Ladores, ‘In the Name of Climate Change: How Leghari v Federation of Pakistan is Instrumental to the Pursuit of the Right to Life in the Philippines’, 5(2) Groningen Journal of International Law (2017), https://doi.org/10.21827/5a6af9f49574a.

Emily Barritt and Boitumelo Sediti, ‘The Symbolic Value of Leghari v Federation of Pakistan: Climate Change Adjudication in the Global South’ 30(2) King’s Law Journal (2019) 203-210, 10.1080/09615768.2019.1648370.

Suggested citation:
Lahore High Court, Asghar Leghari v. Pakistan, Case W.P. No. 25501/2015, Judgment of 25 January 2018.