Rangatahi leading the way in tackling climate change

By Jessica Tyson

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has promised climate change and issues facing the environment will be prioritised, after rangatahi around the Aotearoa have started taking matters into their own hands. 

Following her visit to New York for the United National Climate Change Summit, Ardern told media today that global fossil fuel production and consumption had to be the focus of Governments across the globe.

“I've always felt that urgency. This government's always felt this urgency. It doesn't take attendance at a climate action summit for us to feel that we already do. because we're well aware of the science and we're well aware of the signs of climate change and its immediacy,” Ardern says.

One rangatahi taking the lead is Te Rarawa descendant, Luke Wijohn, who helped organised a mass climate change hīkoi in Auckland last week.

“The reason why rangatahi are so much more scared of climate change because it will hurt us more," says Wijohn.

Climate change activist Greta Thunberg has also made an impression across the world with a powerful speech she delivered before Ardern at the summit last week.

“You are failing us, but young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you and if you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you,” she said during her speech.

Last week Ardern was criticized for not standing up well enough against the issues when she delivered her speech just minutes after Thunberg at the summit, by Greenpeace Executive Director Russel Norman.

“The truth is that we've known about this for decades and political leaders and business leaders have opposed taking action on it for decades, done nothing about it, made it worst and Greta just told the truth about it so yeah, it was a pretty tough act to follow for Jacinda I think,” said Norman.

Concerns for Māori

Some of the concerns around climate change affecting Māori include seabed mining. Last year, the High Court overturned an Environmental Protection Authority consent to allow for mining off the coast of Taranaki.

Ngāti Ruanui spokesperson, in Taranaki at the time, said, “This is a test case and however the decisions are made after the next couple of days will determine and set the way for every other application that comes through the door to this country.”

Rising sea levels are also putting marae at risk around the country, including Mirumiru Marae on the West Coast of the North Island.

Natasha Willison-Reardon, who is a part of the marae’s Environment Committee, says this has been the fundamental concern voiced by whanau at previous wānanga hapū.

“Whānau hearing stories about coastal erosion and the change in the tides and thinking if we have to move our marae, I can’t leave my baby that’s buried here, or you know, my tupuna, or my parents are buried there so there’s a lot of emotion with all of us that whakapapa to here.”

Traditional customary practices are where rangatahi think the answers lie.

“When you look back to our tikanga Māori we know we can have society's that honour people and the planet over profit and fairy tales over infinite growth. We know in our tikanga Māori that we can find balance with our taiao," says Wijohn.