Phi Finney McDonald acts for representative applicants and First Nations leaders, Uncle Pabai Pabai and Uncle Paul Kabai from the islands of Boigu and Saibai in the Torres Strait. In a landmark climate change class action, Uncle Paul and Uncle Pabai are suing the Commonwealth on behalf of all Torres Strait Islanders facing the climate crisis, for breach of a novel duty of care.

The proceeding is the first climate class action in Australia brought by First Nations leaders.


Torres Strait Islanders are on the frontline of the climate crisis and face an existential threat from rising sea levels driven by the burning of fossil fuels. Absent urgent action by the Commonwealth, Torres Strait Islanders face becoming Australia’s first climate refugees.


The applicants allege that the Commonwealth owes a duty of care to Torres Strait Islanders to take reasonable steps to protect them, their culture, and their environment from harms caused by climate change.

The claim alleges that the Commonwealth breached and continues to breach its duty of care by failing to take reasonable steps to prevent the harms to Torres Strait Islanders, including establishing science-based emissions targets. The applicants seek injunctive, declaratory and remedial relief.

If successful, this case has the landmark potential to not only protect Torres Strait Islanders from disaster, but also to help avert the climate crisis before it devastates communities across Australia and the world.


The hearing of the applicants’ fact evidence occurred on country in the Torres Strait in June 2023. Justice Wigney heard evidence from ten Torres Strait Islander witnesses about their experiences of climate change on the islands of Boigu, Saibai and Badu, and in Cairns.

The remaining fact and expert evidence is scheduled to be heard in Melbourne from 6 – 27 November 2023.

The hearing of both parties’ closing submissions is listed for 29 April – 3 May 2024 in Cairns.


Phi Finney McDonald developed the case with the Urgenda Foundation, who brought the landmark case of Urgenda v State of the Netherlands in 2015. In that case, on behalf of 886 Dutch citizens, Urgenda successfully sued the Dutch government for an injunction requiring the Dutch government to set stronger greenhouse gas emissions targets.

The litigation is supported by public interest advocacy organisation, Grata Fund.