Climate change won't wait for politics

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

Indigenous rights and environmental advocate, Tina Ngata of Ngāti Porou, says the government needs to include indigenous solutions in their emergency plan to address climate change. This follows a declaration by the government of a climate emergency.

"Climate change is an existential crisis and it's not going to wait for us to get to a political context to deal with it. Tāwhirimātea and Tangaroa are on their own timeframes, and so we need to be doing everything we can right now to prepare ourselves for the inevitable impacts that are on their way," Ngata said. 

This week, the government declared a climate emergency, following the same move by many councils around the country. But Ngata says emergency declarations often distract from or sideline Tino Rangatiratanga and Māori sovereign rights. Constitutional reform is a matter of urgency, says Ngata, that goes hand in hand with climate justice. 

"What we've seen is that when things are made urgent or made an emergency is that Tiriti obligations often take a backseat and that declarations of emergency can sometimes be used as coding for de-prioritising Te Tiriti. It actually needs to happen the other way around, not just because we are primarily and disproportionately impacted by climate change but because our solutions are solutions that come out of this whenua, and out of this moana and climate justice means prioritising and platforming and centering Māori solutions to the climate crisis."

An immediate threat

East Coast communities, many of which are isolated and on low lying areas, face the immediate threat of climate change. For many communities on the East Coast, floods are already commonplace and there is a sense that they are becoming stronger each season, she says.

"Our road system is notoriously poor on the East Cape, and so there's a high likelihood that we'll be cut off more often, and we'll really need to be depending upon our local economies and our local systems.

"But of course there are the coastal intrusions as well so there will be more flooding events, increased coastal erosion, and we have houses, and marae, and urupā that are already at threat right now, not in the future but right now."

Forecasts point to a rise of sea levels up to 1m in the next 50-150, putting many coastal communities at risk.

"We need our own internal and localised mahinga kai and food economies to be supported to grow. We need to minimise the extractive economies that place a high burden on our ecosystems, especially our water ecosystems, so any of these extractive economies that impact upon our waterways, and our coastlines, really need to be strictly managed and restricted so we can fall back into these local economies in our times of need whether it be because of Covid-19 or because of climate crisis, which is impending."

Ngata says while responses can be put in place at community level, sustained pressure needs to be applied to local and national government to include Māori in the climate response.