Original Article

April 24, 2023


The former President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, has been visiting communities in the Torres Strait between in solidarity with Uncle Paul Kabai on Saibai island and Uncle Pabai Pabai on Boigu island in their landmark climate case against the Australian government demanding emissions reduction in line with the science.

President Tong has been visiting the Islands from 17 April to 24 April as part of the Pacific Elders Voice, a group of former Prime Ministers, Presidents and high level officials in the Pacific.

On Monday these communities issued the Mura Kalmel Sipa (all together we stand) statement of solidarity between Saibai, Boigu and Pacific Elders.

"At the invitation of the Saibai and Boigu Island Elders, the Chairman of the Pacific Elders' Voice and former President of Kiribati, HE Anote Tong, visited the Islands in April 2023 and noted that climate-related threats faced by the communities there are similar to those faced by other Pacific Island countries like Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands, as well as other Pacific communities on the frontline of climate change impacts," it said.

"The Pacific Elders' Voice, together with Saibai and Boigu Elders, stand in solidarity with each other's homelands and peoples, and our shared experience in the face of the climate crisis.

"We stand together in calling for governments to move away from subsidising fossil fuel projects and take urgent and decisive climate action that will ensure global warming remains below 1.5C.

"We stand together in friendship and solidarity in the pursuit of climate justice. We stand together in asking Australia and those responsible for perpetuating the climate crisis, including the fossil fuel industry, to hear our voices and act immediately to ensure the survival of our homelands, peoples, cultures and way of life."

During President Tong's tour of Boigu and Saibai the community members taking part in workshops and training about the causes, impacts and solutions to climate change run by the Edmund Rice Centre's Pacific Calling Partnership.

Elders have been taking President Tong on tours of their islands to examine the damage caused by climate change and discuss the impacts on community, culture, food security and fears of displacement due to sea level rise.

Organisers of the tour noted that Pacific nations residents are facing similar climate change impacts as people living in the Torres Strait, such as erosion from rising seas, salt water inundation of fresh water areas, salt water pollution of soil preventing families from growing fruit and vegetables, changes to fishing patterns, and impacts on cultural sites including the flooding of cemeteries.

Uncle Pabai and Uncle Paul's landmark climate case will argue that by failing to prevent climate change the Australian government has unlawfully breached its duty of care to Torres Strait Islanders, because of the "severe and lasting harm" that climate change would cause to their communities.

They are seeking an order from the court requiring the government to prevent this harm to their communities by cutting greenhouse gas emissions in line with the best available science. The first hearing will be held by the Federal Court on-country in Boigu, Saibai and Badu, followed by Cairns in June.

The Mura Kalmel Sipa statement was signed by Herbert Warusam Saibai Mura Buway PBC chair and Dhoeybaw Clan Chair and community member; Conwell Tabuai Saibai Councillor, TSRIC Director and Ait Koedal Clan and community member; Uncle Ialatie Gilbert Akiba, Saibai Migi Buwai Clan Elder and community member; Uncle Elvis Terrigton Warusam Koey Buwai Clan Elder and community member; Aunty Vera Toby, Custodian of Boigu Island; Uncle Dick Gibuma, Boigu Samu Clan Elder and community member; Uncle Percy Maitie, Boigu Koedal Clan Elder and community member; Brian Peter, Boigu Karbay/Baidham Clan and community member; Pastor Namia Marama, Boigu Spiritual Leader and community member; Tanaio Anau Boigu Dhoeybaw Clan/Environmental health worker with TSIRC; and HE Anote Tong, former President of the Republic of Kiribati and Pacific Elders' Voice chair.