ANU scholar takes climate change message to the UN

Dr Virginia Marshall
Dr Virginia Marshall at the UN Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Summit
Wednesday 11 September 2019

ANU Indigenous Postdoctoral Fellow and Australian Studies Institute Advisory Board Member and Research Associate, Dr Virginia Marshall, has just returned from Mexico City where she attended the UN Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Summit as one of the three delegates representing the Australia/Pacific region.

With the encouragement of UN Secretary-General, the Summit from September 2-3 was hosted and funded by the government of Mexico and brought together Indigenous representatives from Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Arctic, Russia, North America and the Pacific. Along with Virginia, the Pacific was represented by a Maori and a Fijian delegate. An important outcome from the summit was an Action Commitment of Indigenous Peoples for presentation to the UN Climate Summit in New York on September 23.

UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, has called on all leaders to come to New York in September with concrete and realistic plans to enhance their nationally-determined contributions by 2020, in line with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent over the next decade, and to net zero emissions by 2050.

Virginia argues that climate change will impact Indigenous Australians more than other groups. “Many remote Indigenous communities suffer significant impacts on their health and wellbeing as a result of poor water quality and inadequate water infrastructure”, she said “and climate change will exacerbate these impacts”. Indigenous communities in the monsoon zone across northern Australia are dependant of groundwater resources which are very vulnerable to climate change” Virginia said.

There is mounting evidence that climate change will also increase the frequency and intensity of droughts and wildfires as well as extreme rainfall events in eastern Australia, which will reduce the availability of fish and bush foods used by Indigenous people to supplement their livelihoods.

However, Virginia said that traditional knowledge provides opportunities for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Indigenous ranger groups have a high-level capacity for monitoring environmental condition and identifying environmental threats and traditional fire management reduces carbon emissions and protects biodiversity values. Virginia points out that the recent report of the Royal Commission into the Murray Darling Basin highlighted that Indigenous traditional knowledge could guide more sustainable water resource management that would benefit all the communities of the Basin.

Virginia argues that partnering with Indigenous peoples to secure their rights to traditional lands and resources, in line with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples and other International Human Rights Instruments, is an important pathway toward holistic solutions to climate change. 

Dr Virginia Marshall is a Research Associate at the ANU Australian Studies Institute and the ANU Indigenous Representative on the ANU Australian Studies Institute's Advisory Board.

Updated:  17 September 2019/Responsible Officer:  Institute Manager/Page Contact:  Institute Manager