The National Native Title Council (NNTC) is calling for comprehensive policy reform in response to a new study that finds a significant portion of new renewable energy and transmission infrastructure would need to be located on Indigenous lands for Australia to achieve net zero emissions by 2060. 

The Net Zero Australia study found approximately 43 per cent or an area of 50,000km² of new renewable energy and transmission infrastructure would need to be sited on the Indigenous Estate for Australia to get to net zero emissions by 2060. The study predicts that Western Australia, Northern Territory  and Queensland will see significant growth in employment to host the majority of Australia’s clean energy export sector. 

Importantly, reform to agreement-making is needed to ensure the transition to net zero delivers real benefits such as co-ownership and community-controlled projects.

CEO of the NNTC, Jamie Lowe, said, “The scale of clean energy infrastructure on Indigenous Estate predicted by the Net Zero Australia study calls for a re-conceptualisation of the role of First Nations in development.”

The Net Zero Australia study uses data modelling to predict what Australia’s economic transition to net zero emissions would entail, with respect to changes in land and sea use for renewable energy projects, jobs, capital spending and the implications for First Nations communities and the Indigenous Estate. In this context, the Indigenous Estate includes predominantly native title determined areas, but also Indigenous owned freehold and Indigenous managed and co-managed land.

The report raises the question whether current policy frameworks associated with mineral and fossil fuel projects need rethinking, given the scale of net zero transitions and differences with traditional resource extraction projects.

“The mistakes of the resource extraction industry need to be learned from, so that First Nations communities share in the benefits of the clean energy transition, including through energy security, community training and job creation, improvement of local services, revenue streams, co-ownership and much more,” Mr Lowe said.

“Australian law does not provide a level playing field for Traditional Owners in negotiating agreements,” Mr Lowe said.

Currently, under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), while mining and often exploration is generally captured by the right to negotiate under the future acts regime, it is unclear where renewable energy developments sit.

“The law needs to be reformed and must include the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), including the right to veto, or say no to development,” Mr Lowe said.

The NNTC supports the First Nations Clean Energy Network’s work with First Nations community roundtables to create a First Nations Clean Energy Strategy, to enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to play a role in the country’s energy transformation.

First Nations communities have long had poor access to finance and other critical support needed to manage the country and take a proactive role in renewable energy projects, including to obtain equity stakes in projects. Government funding, including through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, should therefore play an important role here.

The NNTC advocates for governments to set benchmark targets for minimum employment, spending and procurement involving First Nations people and companies.

Feature image provided by NNTC.

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