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ILSC says First Nations voices are needed to reach clean energy targets

David Prestipino -

The critical role of Indigenous communities in Australia's transition to clean energy is the focus of this week's First Nations Clean Energy Symposium on Kaurna Country in Adelaide.

First Nations leaders, community members and industry experts at the two-day event beginning Wednesday will discuss how Indigenous influence is required to shape and deliver meaningful strategies for a cleaner, sustainable future.

The syposium - a partnership between the First Nations Clean Energy Network, the National Native Title Council and the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation (ILSC) - follows a groundbreaking report by a specialist hydrogen research team from Swinburne University of Technology and the University of Tasmania, which identified glaring inclusion gaps in Australia's renewable energy approach, impeding its emissions targets.

The Victorian Hydrogen Hub (VH2) said the adoption of renewable hydrogen strategies at federal and state levels was mainly being led by government and big business, with First Nations input barely sought.

This was despite recent modelling by Net Zero Australia that estimated 43 per cent of all clean energy infrastructure required for Australia to reach its net zero emissions target by 2060, would need to be on Indigenous lands.

ILSC chief executive officer, Joe Morrison told National Indigenous Times it would support clean energy initiatives with First Nations people, just as it had worked with Indigenous communities for three decades to prioritise their environmental and cultural benefits as rightful stewards of land, water, and sea.

"First Nations communities were now stepping up to play a vital role in the clean energy transition conversation," he said. 

"Currently, more than a quarter of Australia’s energy generation comes from renewables, marking a significant shift in the country’s energy system.

"Indigenous voices are essential for leading and influencing clean energy and environmental initiatives, whether through smaller, community-based projects or larger manufacturing endeavours.

"An excellent example of the positive impacts of climate change awareness, and the role played by Indigenous Australians, are the opportunities Indigenous land managers have to develop projects on their Country, contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and promoting carbon farming whilst meeting their cultural obligations. 

"And through methods such as planting trees and restoring degraded rangeland Country, First Nations peoples have made substantial contributions to clean energy and the fight against climate change."

Mr Morrison said the ILSC's renewed commitment via the symposium was also reinforced through its National Indigenous Land and Sea Strategy.

"The connection between First Nations peoples and their Country is profound, backed by more than 60,000 years of uninterrupted and sophisticated use and management of Country," he said. 

"Drawing on this experience will shape the future of Australia’s energy market for the better."

A future where remote Indigenous communities could power their homes through reliable, affordable and efficient energy, even during times of extreme whether events, could only occur if traditional knowledge and land management practices informed clean energy methodologies.

"The impacts of warming temperatures and unreliable, expensive power systems are deeply felt by First Nations communities across Australia," Mr Morrison said. 

"Coupled with existing health and infrastructure challenges, these issues have resulted in many Indigenous Australians living in substandard conditions, struggling to power their homes, businesses, and services effectively and efficiently.

"The situation is dire - remote Indigenous communities are at serious risk. The persistent social and economic disadvantage evident in many remote Indigenous communities can exacerbate their vulnerabilities to the impacts of the changing climate.

"There are remote communities across the country which do not have access to power through an electricity grid. In many of these instances, the communities solely rely on diesel-generated power. 

"This crisis demands a thoughtful approach that places Indigenous leadership at its core."

Mr Morrison said Indigenous voices should shape the clean energy transition in a unique way, not just because of their recognised rights and interests across much of Australia, but because they offer invaluable contributions to the design and development of its global commitments, including the Paris Agreement.

"It is only right that Australia’s first peoples - so profoundly impacted by the crisis - are an integral part of its solution," he said. 

"Simply put, the future of clean energy in Australia must align with the values and needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples."

Mr Morrison said there wasn't a one-size-fits-all approach to working with Indigenous communities to address climate and energy-related issues, and strategies to combat them.

"But we know that 'knowledge sharing' and amplifying Indigenous voices and leadership is a critical part of the journey to achieving a sustainable, clean future," he said.

"If the right voices are heard at the right time and in the right places, Australia’s clean energy future will be brighter for everyone."

For more information on the First Nations Clean Energy Symposium, click here.

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