COP26 Diary: Preparing my mind for this 'big, hairy and scary moment in human history'

Aboriginal leader and Christian minister Ray Minniecon is in Glasgow, Scotland for the UN Climate Summit COP26 and he’s keeping a diary …

Diary entry #3: Sunday 31 October, 2021

I have been trying to prepare my mind to try and get a personal glimpse into the extraordinary challenges we face at this big, hairy and scary moment in human history. I must confess that I am fearful about our future on this planet.

COP26 Diary by Ray Minniecon

To prepare my mind, firstly, I reminded myself on the overall goals of COP26 from the President of COP26, Alok Sharma outlined below

1. Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach.
Countries are being asked to come forward with ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets that align with reaching net zero by the middle of the century. To deliver on these stretching targets, countries will need to:
• accelerate the phase-out of coal
• curtail deforestation
• speed up the switch to electric vehicles
• encourage investment in renewables.

2. Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats
The climate is already changing and it will continue to change even as we reduce emissions, with devastating effects.
At COP26 we need to work together to enable and encourage countries affected by climate change to:
• protect and restore ecosystems
• build defences, warning systems and resilient infrastructure and agriculture to avoid loss of homes, livelihoods and even lives

3. Mobilise finance
To deliver on our first two goals, developed countries must make good on their promise to mobilise at least $100bn in climate finance per year by 2020. International financial institutions must play their part and we need work towards unleashing the trillions in private and public sector finance required to secure global net zero.

4. Work together to deliver
We can only rise to the challenges of the climate crisis by working together.
At COP26 we must:
• finalise the Paris Rulebook (the detailed rules that make the Paris Agreement operational)
• accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis through collaboration between governments, businesses and civil society.

These are huge, ambitious goals. Our IPO team, worked in collaboration with Better Futures Australia. We all knew that it was critical that a collective grass roots voice of Indigenous Australia be heard at COP26. We worked hard and tirelessly to try and achieve that voice within a very short period of time, which we initiated in February this year, to coincide with our brilliant NAIDOC theme, “Healing Country” by healing climate change. Our Chair of IPO, Cathy Etock, worked tireless on getting our people’s voices heard from across the country. And she has had to achieve it all from her sick bed!

I attach a summary of our achievements (included at the bottom of this article). The full document, with all our recommendations is available upon request.

Secondly, I also re-read one of the first scientific warnings on climate change which was produced in 1979. It’s called the Chaney Report. A PDF copy is available here.

Note the timeline from 1979 to 2021. And a certain young US politician, Al Gore took the issue seriously. He is still trying hard on our behalf to convince us to change our attitudes, behaviours and practices.

Below is an excerpt from the preface:

“Each of our sun’s planets has its own climate, determined in large measure by the planet’s separation from its mother star and the nature of its atmospheric blanket. Life on our own earth is possible only because of its equable climate, and the distribution of climatic regimes over the globe ….. For more than a century, we have been aware that changes in the com- position of the atmosphere could affect its ability to trap the sun’s energy for our benefit. We now have incontrovertible evidence that the atmosphere is indeed changing and that we ourselves contribute to that change. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are steadily increasing, and these changes are linked with man’s use of fossil fuels and exploitation of the land. Since carbon dioxide plays a significant role in the heat budget of the atmosphere, it is reasonable to suppose that continued increases would affect climate.

These concerns have prompted a number of investigations of the implications of increasing carbon dioxide. Their consensus has been that increasing carbon dioxide will lead to a warmer earth with a different distribution of climatic regimes. In view of the implications of this issue for national and international policy planning, the Office of Science and Technology Policy requested the National Academy of Sciences to undertake an independent critical assessment of the scientific basis of these studies and the degree of certainty that could be attached to their results.”

Note this interesting quote from this report that comes next: “In order to address this question in its entirety, one would have to peer into the world of our grandchildren, the world of the twenty-first century. Between now and then, how much fuel will we burn, how many trees will we cut? How will the carbon thus released be distributed between the earth, ocean, and atmosphere? How would a changed climate affect the world society of a generation yet unborn? A complete assessment of all the issues will be a long and difficult task.”

My Prayer

Ancient of Days. You have given so much wisdom, knowledge and understanding to all Indigenous Peoples about the mystery, beauty and bewilderment of Your creation. We have tried valiantly to protect, defend the honour the sacredness of all the living things You created. We saw all of these beautiful living beings of creation as a part of our family and therefore we needed to care for them as members of our community. Ancient of Days, I ask for the assurance and the faith to believe that our voice will be heard and that we can help heal country, heal our climate and heal our people. Ancient of Days, this is a tough and arduous and burdensome request because we are also dealing with so many other social and political challenges. But Ancient of Days, in Your holy name please give wisdom and a listening ear to our leaders and continue to show grace and mercy toward all who seek to work with Your Spirit to repair, rebuild and restore your beautiful Creation.

Summary of the achievements of our IPO team, worked in collaboration with Better Futures Australia.

We have first law, which is law of the land, not of man. – Dr Anne Poelina

Indigenous Peoples’ Organisation-Australia
The Indigenous Peoples Organisation-Australia (IPO) is a national coalition of 300 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peak organisations, community organisations and individual members across Australia. The IPO was established to promote the rights of Indigenous Peoples at the national, regional and international levels and to facilitate constructive and collaborative participation of Indigenous peoples at the United Nations. The IPO is a voluntary body, which operates through the direction of a national executive and is committed to the enactment of internationally recognised Indigenous rights within Australia.

The IPO was originally funded by the Howard Liberal-National Party (LNP) Government in 2006, following the abolition of the elected Indigenous representative body, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) in 2005. As part of this process, ATSIC’s funding was allocated to mainstream government agencies, with $100,000 annual funding allocated to the Australian Human Rights Commission to administer grant funding for the IPO, to enable Indigenous delegates to attend relevant United Nations forums, through competitive merit selection. In 2014, the Abbott LNP Government cut funding for this grant. In response, the IPO was reconvened as a national voluntary Indigenous members-driven body, in March 2016. The IPO established a national executive and constitution to provide direction and accountability back to the membership.

We’re being guided by our ancestors, by our old people, passing down today’s knowledge, and I think they need to be passed on to non-indigenous people so that education needs to happen. I think we’ve got to get back to putting nature back to the way it was, not just for us, but for all human survival!
– Uncle Bruce Shillingsworth

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, climate change has a direct “detrimental and inequitable impact.” The climate crisis disproportionately threatens the human rights of Indigenous people, including our rights to health, water, food, housing, self-determination, and to life itself.

Global warming has led to an unendurable rise in temperatures in central Australia, with 55 days in the year up to June 2019 over 40oC (104oF), while Central Australian communities ran out of water (Allam and Evershed 2019). Warming has resulted in an increased frequency, intensity and duration of heat-related events, including heatwaves (Arneth, A. et. al., 2019, Climate Change and Land: An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report, Report Summary for Policymakers, p.5 4 Arneth et al, 2019 p.6).

Climate change was widely attributed as the cause of unprecedented 2019/2020 bushfires, which affected millions of people and took 33 lives, with smoke haze contributing to an additional 471 deaths and 3,000 homes destroyed. Such increased heat events contribute to desertification in Australia which amplifies global warming through the release of CO2 and the decrease in vegetation cover. (Arneth et al, 2019 p.12).

Vulnerable groups such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are most at risk (Arneth et al, 2019 p.17).

The Torres Strait Island communities are some of the most vulnerable to climate change due to rising sea levels, which poses an immediate and acute threat. Scientific modelling suggests the sea level could rise about 80 centimetres by the end of this century, with devastating impacts. Torres Strait Islanders are on the frontline of the climate crisis, and urgent action is needed to ensure they can remain on their Islands. Right now, king tides are causing erosion, salt contamination of crops, washing away cemeteries and are threatening the homes and cultures of Torres Strait Islander people.

Limited recognition of customary access to land and ownership has resulted in increased vulnerability to climate adaptation for Indigenous Peoples ( Arneth et al, 2019 p.31 8 Arneth et al, 2019 p.32). The recent droughts have left Aboriginal communities without drinking water. Groundwater over-extraction and the commercialisation of floodplain harvesting have detrimentally impacted Aboriginal communities.

Serious health concerns due to substandard water quality in remote and regional Aboriginal communities is exacerbated by a lack of action on climate change. Indigenous Peoples rights and interests are inadequately represented in the National Water Initiative and regional water and land management strategies, where Indigenous input into the selection, evaluation, implementation and monitoring of policies for land/water-based adaptation and mitigation is necessary (Arneth et al, 2019 p.32).

Australia is committed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a universal, global approach to reduce poverty, promote sustainable development and ensure peace and prosperity. Australia’s Global Sustainability Index and Ranking on the SDGs, from 166 Countries is 56th for Climate Change, 118th for Biodiversity and 101st for Policy. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are seriously impacted by this lack of progress.

Yet the Australian Government has until recently failed to outline how they will achieve a 2050 emissions reduction target. The Australian Government’s 2030 emissions reduction target of 26-28% by 2030 and policy measures are considered by independent international analysts as ‘insufficient’ to achieve the global Paris Agreement goals.

In October 2020 the Government released its technology roadmap to support emissions reductions, but there is no target nor a plan to phase out domestic coal and gas use or coal exports, despite cheaper zero emissions alternatives. The Australian Government continues to spend more on subsidising fossil fuels than on climate action.

Even if we rapidly reduce emissions, the world has already locked in significant levels of pollution. The Australian Government’s 2015 National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy fails to include key actions and indicators to track progress and does not include a rights and equity based approach. Australia is failing to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to adapt to climate change and to provide a just transition for workers and communities.

Australia must facilitate and provide financial support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to develop and implement climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies and incorporate Indigenous decision making into regulatory water and land management bodies.

In response to this grave threat, the IPO held a series of five webinars in July 2021, a Workshop in August and a series of community consultations nationally to develop the following climate change and environment priorities to call for urgent action by the Australian Government and to raise the voice and concerns of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

It’s a response for all of us now, not just First Nations people, but non-Indigenous people, and I think the way do it is to move forward together. I think non-indigenous people need to get involved and build a better
– Uncle Bruce Shillingsworth

Overarching Priorities
1. Incorporate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander decision making, self-determination and ‘Free Prior and Informed Consent’ rights through a justice-based approach in all levels of climate mitigation, adaptation and environmental management policy development and programs.
2. Cut carbon dioxide emissions by 75% by 2030 and 100% by 2035.
3. Commit to going 100% renewables in Australia in the next 10 years.
4. Remove all government subsidies to fossil fuel industries.
5. No new coal mines and phase out coal by 2030.
6. No new fossil fuel industries and immediately transition away from all fossil fuels.
7. Abolish all fracking and coal seam gas extraction.
8. Ensure there is no reliance on unproven methods, such as Carbon Capture and Storage or nuclear power, in national energy policy.
9. Ensure all existing natural forests are maintained and establish incentives to encourage reforestation with local flora to provide habitat for biodiversity.
10. Ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples’ right to clean water, healthy housing, with solar panels on all public and Aboriginal housing and provide appropriate cooling.
11. Reverse policies that foster the sale and commodification of river waters on the finance market to ensure water access to Aboriginal communities and continuous environmental flows.
12. Create a framework and targeted investment for Indigenous community initiatives and businesses to benefit from new and emerging opportunities within the future energy and renewable economy.
13. Establish a just transition for workers and incorporate Indigenous employment targets within all climate abatement and renewable energy initiatives.
14. Extend the Indigenous Ranger Program to all Aboriginal communities and ensure the program is community-controlled and responds to local community needs.

Legislative Priorities
1. Establish a Makarrata Commission to negotiate a treaty.
2. Enact the Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples into domestic law, establish a monitoring body to support its implementation & establish a National Action Plan to implement it.
3. Revise the Native Title legislation to adopt the recommendations of the Connections to Country: Review of the Native title Act 1993 (Cth) [2015].
4. Review environmental breaches of the Adani Mine and withdraw its license to mine where breaches have occurred.
5. Review Cultural Heritage Legislation (Federal and State) to incorporate Traditional Owner decision making, with a right to veto the mining of sacred sites.
6. Enact the Mabo Social Justice package to facilitate the restitution of ancestral lands & to purchase lands for Traditional Owners and dispossessed Aboriginal people.
7. Legislate the requirement for ‘Free, Prior and Informed Consent’ of Traditional Owners for all mining and exploration, with the costs of and payment for meeting paid to Traditional Owners.
8. Meet Australia’s obligations in international law on and support Indigenous input into:
● Climate Change and the Paris Agreement
● Sustainable Development Goals
● United Nations Development Program
● United Nations Convention on Biodiversity


Ray Minniecon is a descendant of the Kabi Kabi nation and the Gurang Gurang nation of south-east Queensland. He is also a descendant of the South Sea Islander people, with deep and abiding connections to the people of Ambrym Island. He leads Scarred Tree, an Aboriginal, Torres Strait and Australian South Sea Islander ministry based in St John’s Glebe, Sydney.