CSIRO leads National First People’s Gathering on Climate Change

By Shannon Jenkins

March 25, 2021

great-barrier-reef-cairns-CSIRO
The National First People’s Gathering on Climate Change will be held in Cairns. (Image: Adobe/chibijet)

The CSIRO is leading a five-day event that will see Traditional Owners and scientists come together to share knowledge and co-design and develop climate adaptation and mitigation strategies.

The National First People’s Gathering on Climate Change, held in Cairns, will “empower and enhance First People’s-led response to climate change”, the CSIRO said on Thursday.

The CSIRO said the event was the “largest meeting of its kind”, bringing together more than 120 Traditional Owners representing more than 40 different First People’s groups, and scientists.

They will discuss ways to provide communities with the tools needed to respond to significant climate change-induced events like marine heatwaves, rising sea levels, bushfires, and heatwaves.

The gathering is being facilitated by the Earth Systems and Climate Change (ESCC) Hub, which receives federal government funding through its National Environmental Science Program. Hosted by the CSIRO, the hub is a partnership with the Bureau of Meteorology, the Australian National University, Monash University, the University of Melbourne, the University of New South Wales and the University of Tasmania.

ESCC Hub leader and CSIRO scientist Dr David Karoly said there was an “immense opportunity” for scientists and Traditional Owners to work together to tackle common climate challenges, and the gathering would build those relationships.

“Climate science has helped to establish a clear line of evidence of a changing climate due to increased human fossil carbon emissions, and many First Peoples are already using climate change science to care for Country and communities,” he said.

“The gathering is an Indigenous-led, co-designed process that has been developed with a First Peoples-led Steering Committee of ten Traditional Owners and the ESCC Hub. It’s all about First Peoples having a genuine seat at the table, and the way we have designed this event reflects just that.”


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Traditional Owners can learn from each other on how to respond to a changing climate, according to Gudjugudju, a Gimuy Walubara Yidinji Traditional Owner.

“We need to understand and prepare for climate change now and into the future,” Gudjugudju said.

“We always had dialogue together, between different Traditional Owner groups, as climate changed in the past. We need to continue these dialogues today.”

Yirrganydji Traditional Owner Gavin Singleton noted that climate change was a “clear and present threat” to First Peoples and their culture.

“While there is an obvious need to enhance and support the ability of First Peoples to adapt to a changing climate, this gap will only be addressed if First Peoples are engaged and included at the design stage of research, he said.

“The gathering has provided an opportunity for us to redefine what this process of collaboration should look like.”

Steering committee co-chair Bianca McNeair has been working with the committee for the past three years to prepare for the gathering. Held on the lands of the Gimuy Walubara Yidinji and the Yirrganydji people, the event has provided a “critical space” for Traditional Owner groups to share their experiences and discuss pathways forward, McNeair said.

“We are really excited to produce tangible and useful materials for our participants to take back to communities. These products explain climate change and hazards in the face of extreme and accelerating events affecting Country, and the hope is that they will help communities put in place effective and tailored climate change adaptation pathways,” she said.


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