What do the Indigenous voices say on climate change?

What do the Indigenous voices say on climate change?
What do the Indigenous voices say on climate change? Source: AAP

Climate change continues to dominate the agenda, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull holding firm to his target of a 26 to 28 per cent reduction on 2005 levels of carbon emissions at the Paris talks, but some are wondering where the Indigenous voices are in the debate?

It's a truly international topic of discussion: what can and should the world do about climate change?

Like many nations, Australia faces hotter summers, more droughts, rising tides and a significant impact on its ecology.

Larissa Baldwin, national coordinator of youth climate group Seed, says the country's Indigenous communities will bear the brunt.

And she believes their voices aren't being given enough attention.

"I don't think we have been given enough of a say, when you look at Indigenous communities around the world we're already being impacted by climate change right now. We're also on the forefront of fossil fuel extraction in Australia, and I think for a lot of us - we've had to send people over to Paris to actually get in front of our world leaders and say 'hey you need to listen to us'."

For 12 days Paris will be the centre of discussions designed to result in a global consensus on climate change.

Indigenous communities from around the world are also attending, from countries including Brazil, the United States, Papua New Guinea and Canada.

Ms Baldwin says the situation in some areas is more urgent than others, but worries this could actually be used against them.

"It's not good enough that some communities will be impacted worse than others. If you're talking about the Pacific Islands you're talking about people losing their homes, people having to move away from where their culture is, where they've beenâ¦throughout their family's history. It's not about, some people yes are going to be impacted more, but it's like the people who are going to be impacted more have contributed least to this problem, and that's where we talk about this being a justice issue that's not fair. And it's not fair to bully those nations into agreeing to lower targets because they're going to need so much humanitarian aid to get through this."

West Australian Indigenous association, the Kimberley Land Council has sent a group of representatives to the conference.

The Council's CEO, Nolan Hunter, warns that Indigenous communities shouldn't be undervalued.

"We're here meeting with different stakeholders - really we're trying to raise the issue of the role of Indigenous people in climate change mitigation. The simple formula is that five percent or six percent of the world's Indigenous peoples have stewardship of a quarter of the global landmass, which accounts for 80 percent of the world's biodiversity. In terms of the effects of climate change, the remote areas, mostly where Indigenous peoples are living, will feel the impact first, around temperature changes, effects to the environment around their lands, the biodiversity, endangered species, you name it, a whole range of things."

While Mr Hunter agrees that the effects will be disproportionate, he doesn't see the point in naming and shaming the worst carbon offenders.

He prefers to concentrate on how Indigenous people can help in mitigating global warming.

This includes passing on knowledge from projects such as reducing the emissions from wildfires by conducting early season controlled burns.

"The unique circumstances of Indigenous peoples is that they hold historical knowledge of the landscape, of the plants and the animals and the biodiversity. This comes from their connection and their cultural knowledge. If you think about the work in the Kimberleys carbon abatement that's the link to traditional fire-burning where we can see that there are many out of control wildfires in northern Australia as a result of the area of rainfall that promotes the fuel load density of growth which means that you then have hot summer wildfires so when you do the controlled burns in the cooler months, or the cool fire burns which is the technique of bio-burning, you can reduce the amount of emissions and CO2 emissions and heat emissions."

Historically there has been tension between Australia's Indigenous communities and outside bodies, such as environmental groups or even the government.

Larissa Baldwin from Seed says it comes down to trust.

"I think it's not all green groups but there are definitely some that don't really respect the place of Aboriginal people. Part of the work we're doing within Seed is about building a real alliance and building real relationships and getting people to understand that you need to talk to the right people even if you're coming onto our country with intention to look after it, you have to understand that there's a dispossession that happens there as well. If you want to come and look after our country then you need to work with us, you need to address our elders and show respect. The practice has to be not tokenistic, there needs to be a relationship built, and I think that's happening in a lot of places across Australia."

World leaders are making efforts to engage more with their Indigenous peoples, and highlighting the specific problems these communities are faced with due to climate change.

Speaking after meeting with leaders from across the Pacific, U-S President Barack Obama, who spent much of his childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia, urged the international community not to forget them.

"As weather patterns change, we might deal with tens of millions of climate refugees from the Asia Pacific region. Climate financing has to reflect the unique needs of the most vulnerable countries in how it operates and that those pledges have to be real."

Despite the uncertainties, Nolan Hunter has high expectations for what will follow the United Nations' climate change conference - for all Australians.

Larissa Baldwin from Indigenous climate action organisation Seed, believes actions speak louder than words.

But she can see change on the horizon.

"I think that we will see real change because people are fed up with targets that don't mean anything. It doesn't matter what the Australian government agrees to over there, what happens back here, within the next federal election is going to determine how we address climate change in this country, and as one of the biggest exporters of coal in the world, it's going to matter what we do next year."