An international workshop held in Cairns, Australia in March explored a number of facets of climate change mitigation related to indigenous and local communities’ livelihoods. A satellite meeting (for which IUCN CEESP-Oceania was part of the organizing team) explored this topic in the context of northern Australian initiatives. A few of these are mentioned here, offering insights on how traditional owners in Australia are incorporating climate change considerations in the management of their country.
The aim of the satellite workshop was to bring together indigenous peoples and local community knowledge holders, experts from Australia and developing country scientists to identify and analyse relevant issues related to climate change mitigation by local communities and indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples legally own more than 11% of the world's forests, many of which are hotspots of biodiversity. These forests and other landscapes under local systems of tenure are at the centre of national and international mitigation proposals. However, it is often unclear how indigenous people can be incorporated in these proposals and how legal and governance frameworks can facilitate fair burden sharing and support sustainable development. Also, traditional technologies and practices of natural resource management are increasingly being recognized as cost-effective terrestrial mitigation solutions that have the potential to enhance existing carbon sinks and to reduce net CO2 emissions.

From the Wet Tropics region Marilyn Wallace, a Kuku Nyungkal Aboriginal woman, showed us a climate watch system developed by her people. A number of indicators for monitoring changes related to cultural practices and protocols were also developed by the community. Categories of indicators include one related to climate change, along with others such as: recognition of rights and interests, participation in management, heritage and spiritual values, socioeconomic benefits, and understanding history. Monitoring such changes is part of implementing their “Bana Yarralji Bubu Inc. Sustainability Plan.” With the building of the indigenous ranger base in their country in northern Australia the Bana Yarralji Bubu Aboriginal Corporation’s vision is for this site to be a place of cultural healing, learning and land management that also supports return-to-Country by providing meaningful employment for community members. Marilyn mentioned that they will continue working together to strengthen their lore, and combine their seasonal knowledge with western science to establish an early warning climate watch system for the northern Wet Tropics World Heritage area. They are also committed towards working with other aboriginal and indigenous groups nationally and internationally to see them strengthening their seasonal knowledge and in combination set up national and international early warning climate watch systems for everyone.

Glen James from the Northern Australia Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance – NAILSMA – described the WALFA project for savannah fire management across northern Australia. This project uses traditional fire management practices together with modern scientific knowledge to better control the extent and severity of savanna wildfires, and in doing so reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The project seeks to increase the proportion of controlled early dry season fires to minimise destructive late dry season wildfires and maximise biodiversity protection. It aims to bring traditional owners back to country and use their traditional knowledge towards climate change mitigation. This reduction in greenhouse gases emission has been sold in a commercial agreement and provides an example of how to gain income from the use of traditional knowledge related to fire management.

Michael Winer from the Cape York Institute talked about opportunities and barriers to indigenous climate change mitigation in the Cape York Peninsula. He mentioned that traditional owners are the least responsible for climate change but the most impacted by regulations. Weak land tenure and property rights for traditional owners, as well as environmental legislation perceived by them as being restrictive, is constraining indigenous economic development in that region, through for instance involvement in the payment for ecosystem services market. He argued for a new approach to environmental management that empowers traditional owners to bring social and economic benefits. He also mentioned that the Cape York Institute supports country planning throughout the region which incorporates climate change mitigation considerations.

Many other initiatives from around the world were discussed at the international workshop Climate Change Mitigation with Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples: Practices, lessons learned and prospects and for more information see those at The aim of the workshop was to review available knowledge on indigenous peoples and local peoples and climate change mitigation as well as to ensure that experiences, sources of information and knowledge (scientific, indigenous and local) were made available to the authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 5th Assessment Report and the global community.

Lea Scherl, James Cook University and CEESP Oceania