Climate navigators to lead Māori away from rising sea levels

By Stefan Dimitrof

At least 80 per cent of the 800 marae in New Zealand are built on low-lying coastal land or flood-prone rivers, and 191 marae are within one kilometre of the coastline.

A number of reports on climate change say these cultural sites will be among the most vulnerable to climate change, and rising sea levels.

Now it has been revealed that an iwi Māori team will be working directly with the Ministry for the Environment to appoint full-time climate navigators, to assess and manage community needs.

Mike Smith, who is in charge of climate change policy for the Iwi Chairs Forum, believes  the joint partnership is a good approach as there is a need to get iwi ready for the shock of climate change.

“The best way for working with us is for us to establish our own teams, come up with our own adaptation plans and we need the capacity to do that so we need full-time climate navigators on the ground.”

The climate navigators will serve an organisation called the Climate Platform and their job will be to risk-assess the climate changes to the communities.

Homes and marae at risk

“Simply it’s working through the communities and understanding what's at risk If we have a half a metre sea level rise, what that looks like across the land, which buildings, which critical infrastructure will be affected by that and identifying which of these buildings need to be a part of a managed retreat from the coast line,” Smith said.

New data has suggested that there is going to be a 30cm rise in sea levels, which will heavily impact coastal areas in the next 20 years and Smith said that it would be “critically important” as there are many lowlying areas that could be affected by the change in sea level.

“Thousands of homes and marae are at risk.”

“While sea level rises are 20 years out it the events that are affecting us now. It's the floods and the cyclonic events that are hitting down from the Pacific that are pushing up waves and already encroaching into communities as we see on the east coast”.