Climate Commission report a turning point for Māori - Awatere Huata

By Jessica Tyson

Māori climate commissioner Donna Awatere Huata is over the moon following the release of Climate Commission Report this week, which will ensure Māori are at the table making decisions about climate change in Aotearoa.

“I’m just so thrilled that a whole new section on Te Tiriti o Waitangi has been inserted into the act. It’s there. We’re there. We know what Te Tiriti o Waitangi means,” she said on Tapatahi today.

In the report, the commission says, "when acting on our advice, the government is required to include strategies to recognise and mitigate the impact, on iwi/Māori, of reducing emissions and increasing removal of carbon from the atmosphere. This includes the economic, social, health, environmental, ecological and cultural effects of climate change for iwi/Māori."

Huata says, “This is a big shift from nothing to where it’s basically saying hapū rangatiratanga or collectives of iwi need to be, not consulted, but at the table making those decisions. It’s a huge shift.”

Major disappointment

One of the key changes from the draft report released in January was an increased focus on partnerships with iwi and upholding Te Tiriti o Waitangi. 

“It’s been three years in the making, and when the draft report was released about eight weeks ago, I just was literally sick to my stomach. I thought all the work that all our iwi have done putting in submissions, all the consultation that has taken place and nothing. We were completely left out of that draft report. So to see that new section inserted, that recognises the role that we have to play," Huata says.

“That’s the key, we’re at the table making decisions, not being consulted by wall-to-wall whiteness, wall-to-wall bureaucrats that don’t take any notice of what we have to say anyway. That to me is a turning point. It’s a great signal for us going into the future and quite frankly, once this gets going, I’m looking to retiring.”

In response to feedback, the commission said the transition to a low emissions society in Aotearoa must be equitable for tangata whenua and all New Zealanders.

"To achieve this, the impacts of the transition on iwi/Māori need to be understood from a te ao Māori view,” the commission said.

Impact on Māori

Huata says there is a whole raft of issues related to climate change that impact Māori.

“Every piece of research that’s been done shows that as vulnerable communities we will be first hit and hardest hit. We will be impoverished. We will lose our jobs, especially in the rural sector. So it’s been a concern how are we going to help the Māori economy.”

She says Māori own parcels of land of up to 1,200,000 hectares and up until now land owners' cries for support to develop that land, to plant forestry or to participate in the carbon economy, have gone unanswered.

She says the carbon economy is white gold and Māori need to be there participating in it but in the past have lacked resources to invest in land.

“We are going to be able to push that with government, with the Crown, to say we really want to participate in this carbon economy. We need to be supporting our rural economies and this is one way,” she says.

She also says a benefit for Māori in the report is related to electricity.

“There was a big electricity price review done a few years ago that showed that there are around 100,000 families that go without power every winter. 25,000 kids get bronchial illnesses, 1600 other people die... So this report here is to deal with those electricity issues going forward.”