Images of Pacific island nations like Kiribati and Tuvalu being affected by rising sea levels – houses, schools and roads being flooded – have become synonymous with the climate change campaign but they are not the only ones fighting.
Much closer to home, people in the Torres Strait Islands are also fighting.
Each year, coastal flooding and erosion causes extensive damage to the Torres Strait island communities. In early 2015, the low lying islands of Saibai and Iama were severely affected by flooding, resulting in houses and roads being submerged by seawater, waste treatment plants being shut down and freshwater supplies being threatened.
Over in Poruma, Masig and Warraber, the shorelines are being constantly eroded, increasing the risk to essential community infrastructure.
As the world leaders – including our own Prime Minister – gather in Paris today for the opening of the Conference of Parties (COP21), we remind them that climate change affects us all.
Coconut trees falling into the sea, freshwater becoming brackish, crop failure from saltwater intrusion and extreme weather events, and coral bleaching are occurring not only in the Pacific Islands but it’s happening in our own backyards too.
In the lead up to the COP21, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced Australia will contribute $1 million towards the establishment of a Commonwealth climate finance access hub to help small island nations like our Pacific Island neighbours access funds for climate change mitigation and adaptation.
The reality is, we need similar financial assistance for communities in Australia being directly impacted by climate change. People in the Torres Strait had to wait more than a decade for federal and state governments to reaffirm the $12 million commitment they made for the construction of seawalls.
Frankly, we can’t sit around another decade and watch the islands get eaten away by flooding and erosion.
This is why we keep a close eye on the climate talks in Paris. A legally binding global agreement on climate change is important to Australia as it is for the rest of the world.
What happens (or doesn’t happen) in Paris affects the Torres Strait Islands. And climate change is happening a lot closer to home than we think.