'We have to react with speed' - Iwi leaders on climate change

7:02 pm on 7 May 2019

Iwi leaders say New Zealand should declare an environment and climate emergency, as the British parliament did last week.

Flood hit parts of Hokitika.

Flood hit parts of Hokitika. Photo: RNZ / Sarah Robson

Iwi Chairs Forum climate change spokesman Mike Smith said climate change was the biggest issue facing humanity and needed to be treated seriously.

"This issue is probably the biggest issue that humanity has ever faced," he said.

"It's a slowly evolving issue that is rapidly increasing in speed. Equally, we have to react with speed and scale."

MPs in the UK last week approved a motion to declare an environment and climate emergency. The motion does not legally compel the government to act.

However, Mr Smith said declaring a national emergency highlights the scale of the problem.

"What this signals is the severity of the problem and the urgency that is required.

"It is easy to be complacent when you hear the word climate change all the time - we need to step up the way we are messaging the climate crisis with language that reflects how serious it is."

The iwi chairs forum, alongside the Māori Council, the Māori Womens' Welfare league, and urban Māori organisations, have formed a National Māori Climate Network organisations.

Mr Smith said steps needed to be taken now to prepare communities for the impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels, floods and droughts.

"We've got to do the risk assessments and the audits ourselves. We can't wait for somebody else to do it for us. We have got to get ahead of the problem in order for us to be resilient."

In a comprehensive study of the wellbeing of Earth's plant and animal life, a United Nations agency said in its just-released report that one-million species could become extinct in the coming decades - thanks mainly to human destruction of their natural habitat.

Mr Smith said the findings supported their call to take action to combat climate change.

The new network will be hosting a Māori Climate Change summit next month.

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