In their complaint to the United Nations, the Islanders said that changes in weather patterns had harmed their livelihood, their culture and their traditional way of life.
Severe flooding caused by the tidal surge in recent years has destroyed family graves and left human remains scattered across their islands, they said.
UN calls for compensation over rights breach
The UN committee said the Australian government should compensate the Torres Strait islanders for the harm suffered, consult the community on their needs and take action to secure their safety.
“This decision marks a significant development as the committee has created a pathway for individuals to assert claims where national systems have failed to take appropriate measures to protect those most vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change on the enjoyment of their human rights,” UN Committee member Hélène Tigroudja said.
Australia had called for the case to be dismissed, saying there was insufficient evidence that the consequences of climate change would affect the islanders’ enjoyment of their rights.
Since then, parliament has passed legislation on emissions cuts and Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen has visited the islands this year.