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Māori and Pacific perspectives on the latest climate science – Expert Reaction

Indigenous and local knowledge play important roles in ambitiously preparing for a warmer future, according to IPCC’s latest climate report.

The IPCC’s Synthesis Report for the Sixth Assessment Report draws on almost a decade’s worth of science on climate change. It says “climate resilient development” is a clear solution to prepare for the challenge ahead, and it should be rooted in our diverse values, worldviews and knowledges, including Indigenous Knowledge, to be effective.

The SMC asked Māori and Pacific experts to comment on the report.

Professor Sandra Morrison, Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies, University of Waikato, comments:

“The IPCC released its AR6 Synthesis Report: Climate Change 2023 yesterday. It is based on the content of the three Working Group Assessment Reports, WG1 Physical Science, WG11- Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, WG111-Mitigation of Climate change and three Special Reports, Global Warming of 1.5 degree C, Climate Change and Land, the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

“The key message is pretty much the same, if not worse as previous reports say only our window of opportunity to make change is becoming more and more limited and those buffers that prevented us from experiencing the worst impact of climate change are weakening. In short we must transform our human activities substantially and urgently to give our planet any opportunity to restore itself.

“From a Māori perspective, we have long-established principles and value systems which have and continue to prioritise outcomes of balance and harmony. As place-based people, our deep relationships within our environment inform our spiritual and physical health and were underpinned by the seasonal rhythms of Papatūānuku, Ranginui and all the Ātua in which we were actively and intimately intertwined.

“We continue to reinforce these messages to all peoples to nurture relationships of deep respect for Te Taiao, our natural  environment; to think long term and intergenerationally; to make what many Māori call mokopuna decisions, those decisions which will impact on our future generations. The severe disconnect between us as humans, our spiritual selves and our natural environment must also embrace our collective whanaungatanga, working together with the highest goal in mind, for our mutual wellbeing.

“We have seen the trauma suffered by so many of our communities through widespread flooding, destructive weather events and Gabrielle. Is this the future that we want? Those most impacted are already those most disadvantaged. Climate change intersects with science, environment, economics and justice and its justice and equity that receives the least attention. We must resource and invest in those communities most in need. That in itself is a form of adaptation. Adaptive decisions will need to be made at many points in time, probably over decades and they will be made without knowing what the future holds. We must equip ourselves with the confidence to negotiate such a future, to give hope to those who will follow us. Most of all, we must do urgently and intentionally.

“The potential for tomorrow depends on what we do today. Ko ngā pae tawhiti whāta kia tata, ko ngā pae tata, whakamaua kia tina. Seek out distant horizons, and cherish those you attain.”

No conflicts declared.

Dr Christina Laalaai-Tausa, Political Scientist and Research Manager for the Pacific Ocean Climate Crisis Assessment (POCCA), University of Canterbury, comments:

“The report reaffirms our deep concerns relating to climate change, it continues to show the drastic impacts of climate crisis particularly for vulnerable people and regions including the Pacific.

“As Pacific people we understand and rely on the importance of civil society and the human agency for social protection and resilience, however this will only go so far. Despite local community efforts at adaptation and mitigation, the speed and magnitude of climate crisis means that our actions today will not be feasible tomorrow as temperatures and sea levels continue to rise.

“Pacific communities rely on Indigenous knowledge that have provided alternative ways for survival, but these now need to be integrated with science and technology to ensure lives and ecosystems survive.

“This then requires emphasis on prioritising investment into climate finance to support adaptation and mitigation in the region- especially as highlighted by the report, there is a huge threat to water and food security- the basis for survival.

“Climate financing is still well below the 100 billion a year as per the Paris Agreement and it is utterly unacceptable.

“The Pacific needs to now look at long term national and regional planning to avoid risks of maladaptation, short fixes as at most times suggested by donors are no longer sustainable and can in fact add to vulnerabilities in the region. Again, there is urgent need for financial support to integrate technology an innovation into what works in local communities.

“There are current adaptation and mitigation practices that would benefit immensely from investing in the Indigenous Knowledge and Science nexus as there are evident synergies that can be explored for the region, for example sustainable development and renewable energy for electricity.

“There is also the need for the region to relook at the commercial fishing taking place to ensure there is enough marine resources to sustain livelihoods in the next few years.

“Given the AR6 the integral question is: Can we secure a liveable and sustainable future? We can when richer nations are able to share their climate finances, science and technological innovation, resources and be willing to cooperate and collaborate with the Pacific and all other vulnerable communities- climate crisis is no longer just about climate, it is now an urgent matter of equity, social and climate justice and inclusion.”

No conflicts declared.

Dr Dalila Gharbaoui, Political & Social Scientist and Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Canterbury, Pacific Ocean Climate Crisis Assessment (POCCA), comments:

“The Synthesis Report of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) provides important scientific knowledge on climate change impacts and risks, and key messages that will be supporting mitigation and adaptation governance in the Pacific region and Aotearoa New Zealand.

“While Earth and Climate sciences are still at the heart of the report, the Sixth Assessment report is a particularly important one as it shifts towards a stronger focus on understanding the human impacts of climate change at the forefront of the climate crisis. It provides important knowledge around climate impacts tied to key policy issues such as public health and wellbeing. For the first time, inequalities have been deeply addressed highlighting that an unequal society is more vulnerable to the impact of climate change which is crucial for policymaking particularly in planning adaptation and mitigation policies for marginalised communities at local level of governance.

“The report advances key understandings of multidimensional aspects of climate adaptation and maladaptation tied to cascading risks around existing inequities especially for Indigenous Peoples and marginalised populations. Indigenous Peoples Rights, Innovation and Knowledge have been under-represented from the first IPCC assessment and despite increasing coverage from the Fourth Assessment Report, this content in AR6 is still broad in scope, and nuanced complexities of Indigenous Knowledge systems are still overlooked.

“While the report provides an improved understanding of climate resilient development, it still lacks understanding of pathways by which traditional knowledge could provide practical ways to avoid maladaptation and support resilience mechanisms. It is a missed opportunity to understand how cultural capital, value systems, community-based social protection, collective actions, reciprocity, relational networks, trust, and other important cultural mechanisms could be used to respond to the climate crisis. Furthermore, there is still little emphasis on understanding how traditional knowledge can work in harmony alongside western scientific approaches to address challenges associated to the changing climate.

“AR6 advances key knowledge on Loss and Damage that is framed around the recognition that there are limits to adaptation. At COP27, Governments took the historical decision to establish new funding arrangements to assist developing countries in responding to Loss & Damage. This is an important achievement and a historical milestone, and it would have been critical for Global South countries including Pacific Nations that the Sixth Assessment Report addresses gaps in understanding and measuring intangible Non-Economic Loss & Damage strongly tied to Indigenous cultures, ways of being, sovereignty and identity. This is an important caveat that will need to be addressed in future IPCC report to ensure intangible loss are adequately encountered into the UNFCCC compensation mechanism on Loss and Damage.

“The report uses more accessible narratives and provides well-designed visuals especially advancing understanding of climate impacts associated to resilience mechanisms that is a major highlight from the report. This knowledge will be particularly timely in highlighting the need for future climate policy to be addressed through the scope of resilience.

“There is a clear message for policymakers to plan adaptation in synergy with mitigation pathways while considering both as locally specific. Adaptation is a dynamic process in constant evolution, and the report provides evidence that adaptation pathways for some might not be for others. In the same line, it highlights that some responses to climate change, such as migration, relocation and resettlement may not be considered to be adaptation. While the report highlights more certainty about the links between climate change and mobility, the focus on climate mobility is shifting to what it means for people on the move specifically in terms of health and wellbeing. However, key scientific knowledge about mobility as form of adaptation is missing in the report including notions of Immobility and how climate change impacts the most vulnerable populations that are ‘trapped’, forced to stay and not able cope with the climate impacts. Resilience mechanisms associated to Voluntary Immobility particularly crucial in regions such as the Pacific, have also been largely overlooked in the report.

“Finally, it is important to note that Indigenous lead authors are still underrepresented in the Sixth Assessment Report. This is an important caveat as Indigenous Peoples are the first impacted by the climate crisis and last to be heard.”

No conflict of interest.