Climate change impacts on country, health and wellbeing: Indigenous sovereignty and wisdom
Dr Janine Mohamed, Lowitja Institute
Lowitja Institute, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander National Health Leadership Forum (NHLF) and the Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA) have been working together to determine the health and wellbeing impacts of climate change on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and collective action being taken to address the crisis. A detailed discussion paper and roundtable meeting held on 20 October 2021 highlight the wide-ranging impacts of climate change upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and knowledge must be at the forefront of national responses to the climate crisis.
The discussion paper prepared by the HEAL Network and CRE-STRIDE found there are many varied direct and indirect climate change impacts on the morbidity and mortality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Climate change is compounding historical injustices and disrupts cultural and spiritual connections to Country that are central to health and wellbeing. Health services are struggling to operate in extreme weather with increasing demands and a reduced workforce. All these forces combine to exacerbate already unacceptable levels of ill-health within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations.
Climate change presents an opportunity for redress and empowerment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to lead climate action planning based on intimate traditional and historical knowledges of Country.
The discussion paper and the roundtable discussions highlight that action on climate change is now extremely urgent not only for the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples but for the planet. The discussion paper maps out best-practice principles for rights-based climate action and place-based adaptation and mitigation. The paper and roundtable showcase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people rising up on climate action, with clear calls to:
- Take action – Climate action that respects human rights and achieves equitable health and environmental outcomes is urgently required. The climate crisis is already disproportionately affecting the health and wellbeing of First Peoples. We need to address existing inequities and ensure future action does not perpetuate these inequities.
- Value and centre our knowledges and rights as First Peoples – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have protected Country for millennia and have survived dramatic climatic shifts. We are intimately connected to Country and our knowledges and cultural practices hold solutions to the climate crisis.
- Work with us – Communities need dedicated resources and support to protect Country and implement adaptation and mitigation planning. We are ready to work in partnership and we need equitable access to housing, renewable energy solutions and our lands and waters to protect Country.
- Create a movement for Climate Justice – Climate change will affect us all – but some of us more so than others. We are all intimately connected to one another and our planet. Climate change is an opportunity to re-set our relationships for the better and seek a healthy and just future for all Peoples. We need to ensure climate action learns from the past and does not perpetuate existing inequities. This is climate justice.