Two Torres Strait Islander elders are travelling to the Pacific on board the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior to highlight the need for stronger action on climate change.
Uncle Paul Kabai, from Saibai, and Uncle Pabai Pabai, from Boigu, on Friday boarded the ship in Cairns, Queensland, alongside other activists who are challenging governments to increase their greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.
Mr Kabai and Mr Pabai have already taken the Australian government to court for failing to protect their island homes from climate change.
The Federal Court recently held on-country hearings to hear Mr Kabai, Mr Pabai and other Torres Strait elders give evidence about how rising seas are destroying their islands and ways of life.
Mr Kabai and Mr Pabai, along with young climate activist Anjali Sharma, are sailing on the Rainbow Warrior to Vanuatu in solidarity with Pasifika communities who, like those in the Torres Strait, are at risk of losing everything due to climate change.
“We come in friendship and solidarity to meet with Pacific communities and leaders,” Mr Pabai said.
“The most important part is that we engage together in sharing our experience of climate change and our cultural ways of connecting together, and that gives us strength.”
The Rainbow Warrior is due to leave Cairns on Monday as part of Greenpeace’s global campaign to have climate change addressed by the International Court of Justice, the world’s highest court, in The Hague.
In March, the United Nations General Assembly adopted by consensus a resolution led by Vanuatu to secure a legal opinion from the court to clarify the obligations of nation states to address climate change and specify any consequences they should face if they don’t.
If successful, it could change the destiny of millions of people bearing the brunt of climate impacts from rising seas, to cyclones and extreme weather events and lead to a wave of climate-related litigation.
While the federal Labor government has pledged to cut the nation’s carbon emissions by 43 per cent by 2030, the Torres Strait Islander elders believe that’s not enough to save their homes or low-lying island communities in the Pacific.
Climate scientists have calculated that Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions will have to be reduced by 74 per cent by 2030, Greenpeace Australia Pacific senior campaigner Steph Hodgins-May said.
“Australia’s relationship with the Pacific is contingent on real climate action but at a time when we should be moving rapidly away from coal, oil and gas, the government is green lighting new fossil fuel mega projects,” she said.
“The Australian government must act in line with the best available science to protect everyone’s island homes.
“A strong submission to the ICJ is a statement in support of communities in Australia and the Pacific who need urgent action to protect them from climate harm.”
This is the third Greenpeace vessel to carry the name Rainbow Warrior after the first was bombed in Auckland Harbour by French government agents just before midnight on July 10, 1985.
She was preparing to sail to French Polynesia to protest against France’s nuclear testing.
In 1989 a second ship was assigned the name before being retired in 2011, leaving the current vessel to continue the legacy.