Elevating First Nations voices in approaches to climate resilient water management

As the UN Climate Change Conference COP27 gets underway in Egypt, Indigenous Peoples in Australia are grappling climate impacts.

Sonia Cooper, a Yorta Yorta woman raised by her Nan on Cummeragunja, is the Indigenous Co-Author of Australia’s State of the Environment – Climate Chapter. She shares her reflections around recent flooding on her country.

Right now, Cummeragunja has been evacuated due to all the water flows and the regulated flows that have happened from the Murray River (Dungala).

Water and soil chemistry is being impacted by climate change, and regulated water, and the conversations [to address this] are hard to have.  

Some of the conversations that are missing are care about water quality including what traditional owners [are concerned and] care about. 

There is a lot of consultation, but the key thing is what is happening after these consultations. Unfortunately,  the mandate is not to have traditional owners at the forefront, but rather as an afterthought, never at the point at making a decision around the table.

However, the ones with the right hearts and minds can make a difference to how water is and how it flows. 

It is no longer enough to have Traditional Owner representation in decision making, policy ideas for their traditional and wider communities should be fundamental to how climate change is addressed together. Furthermore, the statement from the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change emphasised, “ we commit to real solutions based on our knowledge, practices and time-tested sciences, and the fill exercise of our rights, at the United Nations and in our won territories.”

The Australian Water Partnership is organising sessions at COP27 which aim to elevate our First Nations Voices in approaches to climate resilient water management. This aligns with Australia’s objective to showcase renewed and diverse action on climate change, and demonstrate international climate leadership through conversation and engagement. For Australia overall, and AWP, it is essential to provide space for First Nations’ voices and perspectives in understanding, responding and implementing agreed actions to climate change.

AWP is proud to be partnering with several First Nations water practitioners during COP27, from Australia and the Pacific.  Australia has not always recognised the importance of traditional knowledge, but it is an important  part of Australia’s water story and for the “implementation” COP, stories of local resilience are important to share.

AWP is a Core Partner of the Water Pavilion, with the Water for Women Fund, and we are proud to be co-curating a day on Thematic Day 6 on Water, Energy and Climate Nexus on Monday, 14 November.

We are also hosting a session on Thematic Day 9 at the Water Pavilion on 16 November titled, ‘Inclusion: Accelerating Youth, Indigenous and Gender Action on Climate and Water’, which will provide a platform for diverse voices including Indigenous perspectives from Australia, the Pacific and South America to share their strong ethic of stewardship of natural resources. By doing so, it will draw attention to the considerable work being done in this space and possibilities within national and global climate action.

The relevance of this session is sharing how the wisdom of Indigenous and ethnic minority Elders, on traditional water resource management processes aligned to sustainable water practices, is being incorporated in climate adaptation in Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. As agents of environmental conservation, water management and drivers of adaptation, Indigenous peoples’ traditional ecological knowledge has significant potential to be scaled and applied jointly with western approaches. These diverse voices can provide inspiration and spur action for attendees to meaningfully engage with Indigenous and local actors, which would lead to stronger ownership as well as more legitimate, relevant, and effective climate actions.

Find out more on the AWP UNFCCC COP27 event page.


Yorta Yorta Country Credit: Sonia Cooper (2022)