The following piece was published 15 October 2013, SBS World News Australia Radio.
By Ildi Amon
In a report last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded it was more certain than ever that humans were responsible for global warming.
That report focused mainly on the science of climate change, rather than on what to do about it.
Now, the Panel is working on a report on climate change impacts, vulnerabilities and adaptation, due for release in March.
And, as Ildi Amon reports, a leaked draft of that report by the Panel outlines a sobering set of challenges faced by Australia.
It says there is high agreement among scientists that Indigenous Australians will face disproportionate harm from climate change.
According to media reports, the report is also expected to say that little adaptation to climate change has been apparent in Indigenous communities to date.
Director of Research at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Lisa Strelein says she's not surprised by the reports.
She says Indigenous Australians often live in places that are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Dr Strelein says hopes Native Title groups will now start to play a bigger role in dealing with the issue.
"For example Native Title holders have a right to be involved in decision making around their country, so for example if there's a new housing estate that's going to be established on Native Title land the Native Title group can actually be involved in how that is done from a climate change perspective. So the kind of housing dealing with increased heat, the kind of community infrastructure if you're dealing with cyclone shelters, where the rubbish tip goes. Then also Native Title groups are also involved in Country management so particularly through some of the land management programs funded through Commonwealth and State governments such as Caring for Country or Indigenous Protected Areas where they're able to participate in monitoring change and therefore being able to anticipate the need for change."
The director of Australia's National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, Jean Palutikof, has seen a draft of the upcoming report from the IPCC.
She agrees that it's likely to predict that by 2100 there could be 9000 heat-related deaths per year in Australia, and big rises in sea levels affecting coastal areas of Australia.
But Ms Palutikof says predictions are theoretical, and would only eventuate if governments do nothing to adapt to a warming climate.
"But it's not at risk tomorrow. It's at risk several decades ahead and we have the opportunity, if we take notice of these projects, we have the opportunity to do something about it."
Ms Palutikof says she expects the upcoming report will acknowledge that Australia is well-placed to address the effects of climate change.
"It's likely to say something along the lines of that Australia among the developed countries facing the greatest challenge from climate change. The other point that it's likely to make is that Australia is very well placed to manage that challenge. It has a well-educated population, it's a very well resourced and rich country. So it has everything that it needs to address the challenge."
Lisa Strelein from the Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies says Indigenous people have already noticed changes such as increased erosion, the salination of freshwater, changes in flowering patterns and fish moving to colder water.
And she says Indigenous people could be more closely involved in planning for adaptation.
"There's so much that can be learned by Indigenous communities that has tens of thousands of years of experiences monitoring climate change - not necessarily the kind of rapid climate change we have at the moment and that's a really important distinction to make. So the response to rapid climate change it's really important to engage Indigenous communities in the knowledge of how things once were compared to how they are now give you some hints about the rate of change and the impact of change, so that kind of traditional knowledge. But also learning from Indigenous people's sense of living in a landscape and understanding that decisions you make about housing impact down the line on how you enjoy country including the way we use water, the way we use food sources, the way we use fish stocks all of those kinds of things."
Ms Palutikof says Australia shouldn't be waiting for more evidence of climate change impacts,such as floods, fires and cyclones.
She says while adaptions can be made by future governments, there should be recognition now of the magnitude of the challenge and of the need to act.
"I think there's a sense that climate change that is way out there down the line and we don't need to bother about it now. But there are very good reasons why acting now will actually put us in a much better place than delaying for two to three decades and saying "we're not going to deal with this, the next generation can deal with it."