(CNN)A group of indigenous people from low-lying islands off the coast of Australia on Monday lodged an unprecedented complaint against the country's government, accusing it of insufficient action on climate change.
Australian islanders file landmark climate change complaint against government
The eight Torres Strait Islanders filed the complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Committee, claiming that rising sea levels were having a devastating effect on their communities.
Around 4,500 people live on the Torres Strait Islands, a group of more than 270 islands lying between the north coast of Australia and Papua New Guinea. The complainants say their homes, burial grounds and cultural sites could disappear underwater in their lifetimes.
Australia's failure to adequately address the problem was a breach of its human rights obligations to the islanders, they allege.
"We're currently seeing the effects of climate change on our islands daily, with rising seas, tidal surges, coastal erosion and inundation of our communities," said one of the complaint's authors, Kabay Tamu, in a statement.
This was also having an impact on "the social and emotional wellbeing of our communities who practice culture and traditions," he added.
The complaint is the first legal action worldwide brought by low-lying islands against a nation state, said lawyers from environmental campaign group, ClientEarth, which is representing the group. It is also the first climate ligation against Australia on the basis of human rights.
The group has asked the UN committee to rule that Australia should increase its emission reduction target to at least 65% below 2005 levels by 2030, going net zero by 2050. It has also called for the phasing out of thermal coal, in domestic electricity generation and export markets. The committee's rulings are not legally binding, though states are obliged to consider them.