Running strategic climate litigation

“Becoming climate refugees means losing everything: our homes, our culture, our stories, and our identity. If you take away our homelands, we don’t know who we are” – Uncle Paul Kabai

The Torres Strait Islands – or Zenadth Kes – comprise the 274 low-lying islands and shallow seas between the Cape York Peninsula and Papua New Guinea. Climate change poses an existential threat to the Torres Strait Islands, its 4,125 inhabitants, and Ailan Kastom, the unique spiritual and physical connection between Torres Strait Islanders and their homelands.

Phi Finney McDonald represents two Torres Strait Islanders, Uncle Pabai Pabai and Uncle Paul Kabai, in their class action proceeding against the Commonwealth of Australia. The action was filed in October 2021 in the Federal Court of Australia. The Representative Applicants allege that the Commonwealth owes a novel duty of care to protect Torres Strait Islanders from the harm that climate change has and will continue to cause. They argue that to avoid breaching their duty of care, the Commonwealth must adopt emissions reduction targets and implement climate change adaptation measures in accordance with the best available science. The Applicants are seeking declaratory and injunctive relief in addition to damages.

The case was developed in partnership with the Climate Litigation Network, the international project of the Urgenda Foundation, and strategic litigation incubator and funder Grata Fund. Relativity has also lent its support to the case by providing pro bono use of its technology for e-discovery. More information on the case can be found here: