IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

11.4.8 Indigenous people

Indigenous people comprise about 15% of the New Zealand population (Statistics New Zealand, 2005a) and 2.4% of the Australian population (including about 30% of the Northern Territory population) (ABS, 2002).

Changes in New Zealand’s climate over the next 50 to 100 years are likely to challenge the M?ori economy and influence the social and cultural landscapes of M?ori people (Packman et al., 2001). Some M?ori have significant investment in fishing, agriculture and forestry and the downstream activities of processing and marketing (NZIER, 2003), as well as being important stakeholders in New Zealand’s growing tourist industry (McIntosh, 2004) and in the energy sector. Economic performance and opportunities in these primary industries are likely to be influenced by climate-induced changes to production rates, product quality, pest and disease prevalence, drought, fire-risk and biodiversity, which, in turn, will affect the ability to raise development capital in these industries (MAF, 2001; Cottrell et al., 2004). While the majority of M?ori live in urban environments, they also occupy remote and rural areas where the economy and social and cultural systems are strongly tied to natural environmental systems (e.g., traditional resource use, tourism), and where vital infrastructure and services are vulnerable to extreme weather events (e.g., flooding, landslides) (Harmsworth and Raynor, 2005). The capacity of the M?ori people to plan and respond to threats of climate change to their assets (i.e., buildings, farms, forests, native forest, coastal resources, businesses) varies greatly, and is likely to be limited by access to funds, information and human capital, especially in Northland and on the East Coast, where there are large populations of M?ori (TPK, 2001) and increased risks of extreme weather are likely (Mullan et al., 2001). Other pressures include the unclear role of local authorities with regard to rules, regulations and strategies for adaptation; multiple land-ownership and decision-making processes can be complex, often making it difficult to reach consensus and implement costly or non-traditional adaptation measures; and the high spiritual and cultural value placed on traditional lands/resources that can restrict or rule out some adaptation options such as relocation (NZIER, 2003). Many rural M?ori also rely on the use of public and private land and coastal areas for hunting and fishing to supplement household food supplies, recreation, and the collection of firewood and cultural resources. The distribution and abundance of culturally important flora and fauna is likely to be adversely influenced by climate change, so the nature of such activities and the values associated with these resources are likely to be adversely affected, including spiritual well-being and cultural affirmation (NIWA, 2006). These challenges compound the sensitivity of the M?ori to climate change.

Indigenous communities in remote areas of Australia often have inadequate infrastructure, health services and employment (Braaf, 1999; Ring and Brown, 2002; IGWG, 2004; Arthur and Morphy, 2005). Consequently, many of these communities show features of social and economic disadvantage (Altman, 2000; ABS, 2005b). Existing social disadvantage reduces coping ability and may restrict adaptive capacity (Woodward et al., 1998; Braaf, 1999), affecting these communities’ resilience to climate hazards (Watson and McMichael, 2001; Ellemor, 2005). Many of these communities strongly connect the health of their ‘country’ to their cultural, mental and physical well-being (Smith, 2004a; Jackson, 2005). Direct biophysical impacts, such as increases in temperature, rainfall extremes or sea-level rise, are likely to have significant indirect impacts on the social and cultural cohesion of these communities. There is recent recognition of the untapped resource of Indigenous knowledge about past climate change (Rose, 1996; Lewis, 2002; Orlove, 2003) which could be used to inform adaptation options. However, the oral tradition of recording this knowledge has, until recently, largely hindered non-Indigenous scientists from using this expertise to inform their science (Webb, 1997; Hill, 2004). Climate-change impacts identified for remote Indigenous communities include increases in the number of days of extreme heat, which may affect disease vectors, reproduction and survival of infectious pathogens, and heat stress (Green, 2006a; McMichael et al., 2006); extreme rainfall events and flooding, causing infrastructure damage (Green and Preston, 2006); salt inundation of freshwater aquifers and changes in mangrove ecology (UNEP-WCMC, 2006); changing fire regimes; sea-level rise and coastal erosion (Bessen Consulting Services, 2005; Green and Preston, 2006). King tides1 in 2005 and 2006 in the Torres Strait have highlighted the need to revisit short-term coastal protection and long-term relocation plans for up to 2,000 Australians living on the central coral cays and north-west islands (Mulrennan, 1992; Green, 2006b).