Māori want to lead first national adaptation plan on climate change

By Tumamao Harawira

New Zealand's first national adaptation plan for tackling climate change paints a grim picture for Māori coastal communities, and iwi who are most at risk want to be part of the decision-making to address its impact.

During this week's announcement, Climate Change Minister James Shaw lamented the hands-off approach of successive governments.

"It's incredibly frustrating that the institution of government has not grasped the scale and severity of the impact of climate change." 

There are 160 recommendations in the 200-page report that cover the environment, communities, dwellings, and infrastructure. But the section of concern for Māori deals with managed retreat.

According to the plan, "Managed retreat is the process of abandoning places where the risk from hazards like flooding or erosion is too high."

Gisborne deputy mayor Josh Wharehinga says climate change has had a major effect on East Coast iwi. So they want to be part of the decision-making on climate change.

'Drop in the bucket'

"There's Waipiro Bay, there's Tokomaru Bay, there's Nuhiti, and There's Anaura. You know we all saw the near miss for the urupā. It was very real for us."

Wharehinga is talking about the near-miss at the cemetery in Anaura on the east coast, which was almost swallowed up by flooding following torrential rain. This follows flooding that knocked out a bridge on State Highway 35 between Te Araroa and Gisborne.

The plan covers a six-year period to 2028 and works off a climate assessment completed in 2020.

Rauora is the name of the section dedicated to Māori. It will spend $30m over the next six years to engage with Māori. Debbie Ngārewa-Packer from Te Pāti Māori says that is just a drop in the bucket.

"But it's not enough. When you look at it from a grassroots perspective, we have got one iwi that's got one marae and another that's got 16 hapu. So there needs to be substantive investment, not only to help inform and to help execute some of these things but also to ensure we can successfully sustain the plans."

Wharehinga says the shipis steadily sinking, and iwi-led solutions are needed.

"The last joint that went into the waka was the haumi joint. The hapū kōrero, the marae whakaaro in regards to managing retreat, for our adaptation for climate change, that's the haumi joint."