Climate Change to "Climate Crisis"

By Kim Webby, Te Ao with MOANA

'Crisis' is the new term many people use to describe the warming of the earth’s temperature and its likely devastating effects.  

If we do nothing, New Zealand’s temperature could rise by more than 4 degrees by 2100.

The latest call to action has been led largely by young people both in Aotearoa and around the world, and millions have recently taken to the streets to demand change.

New Zealand’s protests came just weeks after our government offered up 2,200 square kilometres of Taranaki land for oil and gas exploration, in a region where oil and gas production is a major money earner.  

But some Māori call this block offer, a 'second confiscation'.

Ngāti Ruanui CEO, Debbie Ngarewa Packer of Pātea says, “We, like our ancestors, have had to live with the indignity of seeing our land carved up as it was with surveyors, in the way that highlighted, I guess, what for us was our holocaust as Māori, as Ngāti Ruanui, as Taranaki.”

Climate Justice Taranaki spokeswoman, Emily Bailey agrees.

“We’d definitely call it another confiscation. They took the land, and then they took the trees and then they moved us all off the land, and now they’re taking what’s under the land and dumping the waste on top.  We’ve just had enough.”

Urs Signer, also of Climate Justice Taranaki, says dairy farming is another mainstay of Taranaki’s economy.  But methane gas from belching cows adds to the climate crisis.

“Taranaki has all the ingredients that create climate chaos, you’ve got the deforestation, chopping down every tree to make room for cows.  You’ve got the intensification of dairy farming, you’re drilling for oil and gas to chuck chemical fertiliser at the land to degrade the soil again.  We have rivers that have way too much nitrogen in them.  And you’ve got all the methane and all the CO2 emissions from that activity," he says.

The government’s response to climate chaos was to introduce climate change legislation.  If passed it will:

  • Establish a Climate Change Commission.
  • Reduce greenhouse gasses, except methane from animals, to net zero by 2050.

Burping cows need only reduce their gas by 10 percent by 2030, then by up to 47 percent by 2050.

But Debbie Ngarewa Packer would like to see more done, sooner, especially when it comes to oil and gas production.

“What we would like to see is that this government starts to be genuine in its commitment to actually name a date, a time that this sector is going to stop.“

But oil and gas production has helped make Taranaki rich since the first well was dug in 1865.   Now, some estimates say there may be only a decade’s worth of resources left.

Last year, the government put a stop to any new offshore oil exploration permits.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called it her generation’s 'nuclear-free moment' and most Taranaki iwi welcomed the move.  

But there are concerns that economically Māori will suffer, especially rangatahi.

More than 40% of the youth in Taranaki are Māori and a lot of them are already experiencing high disparity, so if we don’t get this next step right it’s going to be worse,” says Packer.

A two-day national and international think tank named 'Just Transition' was held in Taranaki to discuss ways to move away from oil and gas without wrecking the economy.

One of the speakers was Liana Poutu, chairwoman of Te Kotahitanga o Te Atiawa, who had a wero for summit participants.

“We’re committed to our region and to put it out there; is our region committed to us?”

She says Māori have not generally benefited from oil and gas production in Taranaki and are not investors in those industries.

Both Poutu and Packer say Taranaki iwi will survive a move away from oil and gas production.  Packer, who is from the home of Poi E and Pātea, is no stranger to tough transitions.

“We know how to survive the closing down of freezing works, muru raupatu, you name it- and this is a tribe of people who created “Poi E” when their works and jobs and everything had closed down so we’re extremely resilient,” she says.

Poutu adds, Our experience through those previous transitions is that they have been done without us and had we participated then perhaps the negative impacts on our communities, on our people may not have been as significant or bad as they were."    

Poutu also sees the potential for Māori in the development of new, clean fuel alternatives.  

The government has set aside $27mil for a new energy research centre in Taranaki and $20mil for research.

Poutu says, “It’s a prime opportunity to upskill our own people to participate in this alternative energy industry.  We currently have an ongoing and unacceptable level of deprivation among our people and that gap has the potential to get bigger, and our people have the potential to be the most negatively impacted by a transition. 

"So, for us, the key would be trying to get our people upskilled and into a position where they could participate in the new alternative energy sector which is something that we’re not involved in currently.”

Meantime, 'Midnight Oil' lead singer  Peter Garrett, who is also a former Australian Environment Minister, lent his voice to the 'Just Transition Summit'.

He has some dire warnings if we don’t act now.

“What we’re staring into the barrel of is enormous food scarcity in those areas where drought will be significant.  We’re looking at much more spread of disease.  We’re looking at the evacuation of large numbers of people from low-lying coastal areas and that’s going to be an issue for you here in NZ.  

"We’re looking at the potential for conflict between nations over scarce resources.  This is a nightmare and the only way we can hold that nightmare at bay is to act now.  The time is now, the time has come,” he says.