The man behind a Maori bid to tackle climate change

by Rebecca Macfie / 19 August, 2017
RelatedArticlesModule - Climate

Maanu Paul. Photo/Newspix

Adding to the explosive growth of global climate litigation, the Mataatua District Maori Council has asked the Waitangi Tribunal to grant an urgent hearing into a claim that the Government’s climate policy is in breach of its obligations to Maori.

In a memorandum filed with the tribunal by Tauranga lawyer Michael Sharp, council chair Maanu Paul says the claim would relate to Maori across Aoteoroa/New Zealand, not just the council’s Bay of Plenty territory.

Paul says climate change will increasingly affect ecosystems over which Maori exercise kaitiakitanga. Increasing water scarcity will damage Maori communities and businesses, warmer temperatures will affect fisheries over which Maori hold quota and the changing climate will affect the forestry industry in which Maori have a significant stake. Communities and cultural sites will also be affected by rising seas.

The memorandum notes that the Government is intending to use international carbon credits to meet its international obligations but that on current projections emissions will continue rising up to 2030.

The council claims the Crown has a duty of “active protection” towards Maori, and to meet that obligation it must bear its “fair share as a developing nation in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions” to keep temperatures below dangerous levels that would threaten Maori and their use of their land and resources. They claim the Government has failed in that obligation and that the centrepiece of policy – the emissions trading scheme – has been ineffective and discredited by the historical use of junk overseas credits and by the exclusion of agricultural emissions.

The claim also borrows from the “public trust” doctrine at the heart of a suite of international climate lawsuits, including the ground-breaking Juliana v US case. “The public trust doctrine as recognised in American common law has parallels with the Crown’s obligations of active protection of Maori in the use of their land and resources,” according to Paul’s memorandum.

Michael Sharp.

Paul told the Listener that Maori in the Mataatua District Maori Council area are asking their leaders, “‘What are you doing about this climate change?’, particularly the people in Edgecumbe who have been flooded out.”

As a former kiwifruit grower, he sees a link between vine disease Psa and an altered climate that he believes helped the disease spread. Similarly, he argues “ideal conditions” brought about by climate change are aiding the spread of myrtle rust, which threatens manuka trees and has been found in Northland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki. Floods and deluges are also occurring more frequently and causing more damage than in the past, he says.

The claim seeks a finding from the tribunal that Government policy is inadequate and a recommendation that new emission-reduction targets and policies be set that meet New Zealand’s obligations as a developed nation and make a “valid and substantive” contribution to keeping global temperature increase below 2°C.

The Crown has asked for an extension of time to September 15 to respond to the application, but the council has opposed this, saying it should be given only until August 15.

This article was first published in the August 19, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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