February 2024

Terrain NRM was the voice of the Wet Tropics at the recent United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai.  Board Chair Barry Hunter spoke at three Indigenous-focused events and both he and Terrain’s Biodiversity and Climate Leader Sarah Hoyal were part of the Australia pavilion and the World Climate Action Summit, while also observing the formal negotiations.

We asked Barry and Sarah what they learned, and shared, as delegates during a trip made possible through the Australian Government’s Climate Conference Travel Support Program.

Sarah says: “Attending COP28 was an amazing opportunity to have a North Queensland voice at the conference, to share our knowledge and to make connections with organisations from around the world. Watching so many countries come to an agreement takes patience and a head for detail, but outside of the slow pace of political action, I was really heartened by the amount of passionate people representing alliances and partnerships from all over the world which are taking action to address the climate crisis from multiple angles and geographies. This really gave me hope.”

What, for you, is the most important outcome of COP28?

Barry: “The start of a global push to phase out fossil fuels. (This was the first COP to actively call on countries to “transition away” from fossil fuels, as well as “phase down” the use of coal.) There were also major announcements about Indigenous people, with the launch of the Padong Indigenous People’s Initiative, recognising and supporting Indigenous peoples’ contributions to the conservation of biodiversity and climate solutions through Indigenous knowledge systems. This initiative will also help Indigenous peoples to meet their obligations on biodiversity 30×30 targets (the global commitment to protecting 30 per cent of land and water by 2030).”

Sarah: “A recognition that phasing out fossil fuels plays a role in addressing climate change. Personally, it was a unique opportunity to participate in international dialogue that I’ve been watching from afar for most of my life.”

What are some takeaways that will influence your work going forward?

Barry:  We made great contacts and came away with a stronger understanding of the role we can play on a global scale through actions we take locally and by being the change that we need to see.

Sarah: We made a number of valuable contacts and gained a greater knowledge of networks and alliances that I hope will lead to more investment of resources into the Wet Tropics region. I’m also hoping it will lead to a greater understanding of how non-government investment can be sought to address regional challenges while ensuring benefits stay in our local communities.

What came out of it that might help this region?

Barry: The crucial role that NRM regions like the Wet Tropics play in climate change is not fully recognised and understood. I’m hoping being at the conference changes that.

Sarah: Raising awareness of this region’s exposure to climate impacts and its biological importance and world heritage status will hopefully help to bring in more resources to support regional resilience.

Was there anything you wish had been different?

Barry: The youth focus was great, and a great contingent of young Australians attended. I think their voices should have been more elevated.

Sarah: I found the location challenging – Dubai is a city in a desert built on a fossil fuel economy. There was no connection to nature. However, this conversely meant that the fossil fuel issue was central to discussions. I would like to see much more tangible mitigation action from these conferences. Although we must undertake significant adaptation action such as restoration and repair, the majority of the task is to reduce our emissions.

Why do you think it’s important for non-government delegates to be part of a COP?

Barry: I hope our involvement at this COP will bring a greater visibility for the natural resource management sector in Australia and globally. A regional, community-centred, land management approach will be key to addressing climate adaptation, mitigation and climate impacts.

Sarah: There was very little representation from the land sector in Australia at the conference, and there were no other representatives from the NRM sector.  It felt like our role was to bring a sense of practicality and urgency to the discussions. Legal texts need to be considered in a context that shows the complexity of the problems we need to solve, the myriad partnerships and the approaches and solutions that are already available.

About COP28

COP has been running since 1995. It’s held every year, bringing together leaders from governments, businesses, non-government organisations and civic organisations from across the globe. COP is an opportunity for signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to find solutions to climate change – undoubtedly the biggest challenge of this century.

Sarah: “The 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference was the first to cover the interconnected challenges we face, with a major emphasis on linking the climate crisis with biodiversity and nature loss, and also food systems, regenerative landscapes, health, just transition and inequality.

“As a consequence, the Consensus Statement, which included a specific target to triple renewable energy production and double energy efficiency by 2030, also included an $800 million pledge for a loss and damage fund, stronger recognition of the contribution of forests, oceans and other ecosystems, and consideration of the role of agriculture and food systems.

“A new report was also launched at the conference. The Global Tipping Points Report  assesses the risks and opportunities of negative tipping points and positive tipping points in the natural world and for humanity. The key take-out message is that while climate change and nature loss could soon cause tipping points in the natural world, posing threats that we’ve never experienced before, positive tipping also has the potential to accelerate a transformation towards sustainability.

“We need urgent global action to stop the negative tipping points but at the same time we need coordinated action to trigger positive tipping points to create a domino effect of positive change. These could be a powerful counter-effect to the risk of the natural world tipping points cascading out of control.”

“For all of us in the Wet Tropics – one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet – this means working together in new and innovative ways through diverse partnerships where Indigenous voices are at the fore, to tackle the complex challenges we face. We are practiced at managing crises, like cyclones, and recovering. Now we need to listen to the science and continue to implement local mitigation and adaptation solutions that support global action – things like climate smart agriculture, farm-scale renewable energy solutions, restoring key areas of native habitat to improve resilience, improving water quality flowing to the Reef, and implementing nature-based climate solutions.”


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