Climate change action and policy needs to centre Māori, Pasifika, disabled communities - advocate

8:51 am on 9 April 2021

Some Māori and Pacific people say they have been shut out of climate change activism.

A Tokelaun woman brings her climate message to the Auckland rally.

A Tokelaun woman brings her climate message to the Auckland rally. Photo: Christine Rovoi

They warn if their voices are not included it risks perpetuating the massive inequalities in this country.

Kera Sherwood-O'Regan from disability climate justice network SustainedAbility says for too long Māori and Pasifika perspectives have been excluded.

"While this climate movement has been predominantly Pākehā, our frontline communities have actually been doing the real work of systems change for decades.

"And that's been happening without the same public recognition or without the media campaigns, and without the recognition that deep systemic work is actually what's going to address the climate crisis."

Sherwood-O'Regan said she acknowledged the mahi of the young climate strikers who today will march all over the country demanding action from the government.

But she said these new environmental movements grew out a legacy of exclusion.

"I'd really like to see our rangatahi Māori, our Pasifika, our disabled and other frontline communities are centred in any campaigns, any media, any protests or actions and any public policy to do with climate change.

"Because we cannot exceed that solutions to climate change continue to sacrifice those who have already been bearing the brunt of this."

Young Wellington councillor and climate portfolio holder Tamatha Paul says in this country it is those who can least afford to make the drastic changes to adapt to the changing climate who will cop it the worst.

For example she said South Auckland - predominantly Māori and Pasifika - are low-lying and vulnerable to sea level rise. These people cannot afford to move away and buy homes elsewhere. They are also more likely to be working jobs that require commuting long distances where public transport is expensive or difficult to access.

Luhama Taualupe is a wavemaker - an indigenous conception of an activist.

She said Pacific people having been raising the climate alarm for decades and it rankles the West only took notice when the young Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg called them out.

"People are only willing to genuinely listen when somebody they feel comfortable listening to is talking to them and doesn't seem like a threat.

"That's a difficult thing because that's subconscious racial bias."

Taualupe said says without indigenous people leading the conversation on climate the same inequalities would remain entrenched.

"You can't stand for climate justice and not stand for social justice and indigenous justice - because if you're just one and not the other you're perpetuating the same system you're trying to change.

"Yet again you're oppressing a group of people that are already heavily marginalised."

Climate activist Brianna Fruean from the Pacific Climate Warriors said for those in the Pacific the impact of climate change was not some futuristic disaster movie - it was happening already.

She said the world needed to learn from indigenous people's knowledge to tackle the climate crisis.

"There is a type of of living that is reciprocal, that is in harmony with nature.

"Sustainability isn't necessarily something that we're trying to get to, but something that we're trying to get back to."

The school climate strikes begin about lunchtime today.

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