Indigenous experience can help with climate action

Our experts have thousands of years of data, knowledge and practice relating to the diverse landscapes that span the country: sea country, river country, desert country, rainforest, bush and island country. Our peoples' understandings of species variation, the seasons and natural events in this place stretches back far beyond the importation with white settlement of four distinct seasons and rabbits.

Joe Ross Sydney Morning Herald October 14, 2010

The formation of a minority federal government has brought with it promises of a "new way" of doing things.

In regards to the development of a workable and effective climate change policy, this "new way" has taken the shape of a Climate Change Committee comprising representatives of major political parties and "experts".

Part of this committee's aim is to build consensus on national climate change mitigation and adaptation solutions, including possible emissions regulation. Add to the mix a renewed focus on regional and remote services, health, education and development and some obvious synergies emerge.

But if there is truly to be a new way in dealing with climate change under this federal government, then the next step needs to be calling on the experience and expertise of our indigenous communities.

In Australia, you don't come across people as regional and remote as many indigenous communities. Likewise, in many areas of Australia you will not find people more susceptible to the impacts of climate change than indigenous communities.

Yet, to date, despite the significant area of Australia that is owned or managed by indigenous peoples, we have been largely overlooked when it comes to debating and designing solutions to the issues presented by increased greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

Our knowledge of, and rights and interests in, land along with our presence in some of the most remote areas of Australia, means that we are a key part of building and implementing many of these solutions, including monitoring and cultivating the health of our ecosystems. Our experts have thousands of years of data, knowledge and practice relating to the diverse landscapes that span the country: sea country, river country, desert country, rainforest, bush and island country. Our peoples' understandings of species variation, the seasons and natural events in this place stretches back far beyond the importation with white settlement of four distinct seasons and rabbits.

Our work as stewards of Australia's environment has been of immense cultural, environmental, social and aesthetic value to all Australians. Any market-based solutions to greenhouse gas emissions present an opportunity to more appropriately value our services in a commercial context, and creates opportunities for innovative partnerships for "green" and "clean" development in regional and remote Australia.

It is in our collective interests to facilitate early and meaningful involvement of indigenous people in the design and delivery of emissions reduction policy.

This didn't happen in the last parliament, when the process of devising the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme fell to the bureaucracy, thus freezing out those on the ground.

This time round, let's hope the federal government embraces the opportunity to learn and benefit from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experts as a part of this process. Such an approach will ensure the doors are left open to those who choose to pursue economic opportunities associated with our lands and waters.

I am not suggesting that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have all the answers. It is acknowledged that in our contemporary society, the best solutions to the problems confronting all Australians will come from a diverse range of experts. This includes our experts and representatives, who as land managers, landowners, custodians and stewards of our elders, ancestors and beliefs, are an essential part of our shared future.

Indigenous Australians have started important work in these areas (for example through the Northern Australian Land and Sea Management Alliance, the National Indigenous Climate Change Project and the Murray Lower Darling Region Indigenous Nations, to name a few groups), which creates a solid foundation for future opportunities.

While I acknowledge and respect that some indigenous peoples in Australia may not want to be involved in the further "commodification of country", I believe that many of our experts look forward to contributing to the design of national climate policies and regulatory solutions.

Joe Ross is chairman of the Indigenous Water Policy Group (IWPG) (NAILSMA) and a member of the Bunuba people in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. He was the chairman of the Northern Land and Water Taskforce and has extensive work and policy experience in the areas of environmental and natural resource management.