From earth warrior to environment commissioner

By Herewini Waikato

Eco-lawyer and climate change activist Kiri Danielle has become Aotearoa’s first Māori Environment Commissioner.

Now Danielle (Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, Ngāti Raukawa ki te Tonga), with a team from the Ministry of Environment, is working on a new digital platform called Taiao Connect that will help empower other kaitiaki taiao (ambassadors for the environment) around the country and their work for a cleaner and greener Aotearoa.

Taiao Connect is a digital ‘connections amplifier’ platform being developed to link people to critical resources and partners within the environmental project ecosystem.  

Taiao Connect will give communities access to information, and tools to support biodiversity regeneration across the motu.

“Another important thing is biodiversity, which makes up all living things within the environment. At the moment the condition of biodiversity needs our help and from this digital platform, we can develop more kaitiaki or ambassadors,” Danielle said.

Kiri Danielle begins new mahi to protect te taiao.

Keeping Papatūānuku pristine

Danielle was selected for her strong advocacy for her 12-year mahi around Aotearoa and for keeping Papatūānuku pristine despite humans’ disrespect such as throwing rubbish on the land, water pollution from garbage, too many cows and sheep polluting the air and waterways

Danielle says she has a deep love and ringa raupa (working hands) for Papatūānuku.

“Papatūānuku and Ranginui are struggling under the weight of what humans have been doing for many years, unrestrained and unrestricted and my role is to stand as an advocate for them. Not for money, not for people’s greed - for the environment first,” Danielle said. 

“I am very happy because with this new role I will have a more prominent voice for our environment and our people,” Danielle said.

She said she would use her law degree to help create change where it was needed in the legal system for better outcomes for the environment.

Pilot in February

Progressed through the 13-week Creative HQ GovTech Accelerator programme, Taiao Connect is a collaboration between the Ministry for the Environment, Toitū Te Whenua - Land Information New Zealand, and other agencies: the Department of Conservation, the Ministry for Primary Industries and Ministry for Business – Kānoa. 

The Ministry for the Environment says the country faces a wide range of environmental challenges, and the government is working across different areas to accelerate and scale action to address these challenges, reduce human impact on the environment and ensure a flourishing environment for every generation.

In 2020 the government under Jobs for Nature supported 412 projects and 9,000 jobs through its $1.219 billion dollar investment fund. This money will run out soon and Danielle hopes Taiao Connect through its funding support paths will help some of the 412 projects to continue. Some of the projects are now self-sufficient.

Danielle and the Taiao Connect  team are looking for almost $200,000 to complete the digital platform and they would welcome other environment agencies and.

They hope a pilot of the platform Taiao Connect will be ready by February next year.