Collaboration With Indigenous Peoples Key To Smooth Energy Transition

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How effective industry and governments are in partnering and collaborating with Indigenous peoples around the world on new energy projects will play a major role in how the energy transition takes shape and the time it takes to reach carbon neutrality, an Australian Indigenous representative told World Petroleum Congress delegates this week.

While Indigenous peoples only represent six per cent of the global population, they have ownership or are rights holders on 30 per cent of the land base, or around 38.6 million square kilometres, said Margarita Escartin, managing director, Red Cliff Project Consultants, from Australia. These Indigenous lands overlap with around 40 per cent of all environmentally protected areas.

Access to this land base for mining the critical minerals needed for technologies like batteries is imperative, said Escartin. Of the almost 6,000 proposed or existing mines needed to supply the energy transition, half are on Indigenous territories.

“Renewables like wind and solar require 10 times more land than nuclear or natural gas,” she said, adding to the need for access.

“This speaks volumes on the level of opportunity” the energy transition provides for Indigenous peoples around the globe to develop their economies, she added.

But there are challenges as well. The land is in almost 90 different countries, many with limited legal and regulatory regimes in place, said Escartin. And with the pressure to act on climate change, there is a risk of moving projects forward without properly addressing Indigenous concerns.

“There is real danger in this,” she said. “All industry knows the danger of climate change, but they need to be responsible.”

“These relationships take time. If you are rushing to build projects you risk compromising the relationship and compromising the project,” she added.

When working with states with less established regulatory environments, companies should take an equity approach in how they deal with Indigenous peoples globally to ensure they are part of projects and share in the benefits throughout the project’s entire life cycle.  

While much of the focus surrounding corporate responsibility has been on emissions and the environment in general, Escartin said social justice issues like Indigenous rights are growing in importance around the world.

“Financial markets are going to have a lot to say about it. It will be interesting if in five years’ time it’s not something nice to do, not just good for business, but something you have to do,” she said. 

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