Weeds need pulling in the Far North, if Donna wants to do something about climate change

While Shane Jones was filling Point of Order’s email in-tray with a flurry of handout announcements, the grandly titled Māori Climate Commissioner was bleating about  Māori and their land being inadequately treated in the formulation of climate change policy.

Māori Climate Commissioner” is a title which rings with Wellington and officialdom.

Actually it is the creation of a private carbon trading operation called the Māori Carbon Foundation, an organisation  which says it offers

… carbon planting solutions to all landowners, and we are particularly excited about the economic and social benefits that are offered to Māori landowners from participating in the MCF planting programme

But when its Māori Climate Commissioner criticised the Minister for Climate Change and his Interim Climate Change Committee for “treating Māori concerns in a superficial fashion”, the dust had not yet settled on the matter of 1 million or so seedlings bought to plant in Northland to kick off the One Billion Trees programme.

A Māori trust and Māori land loomed large in the story.

The NZ Herald said the Government had planned to plant 1100ha with pine this year as part of a $32 million inaugural joint venture on the Far North forestry block.

It ordered about 1,100,000 seedlings, but the number that could be planted collapsed to 191,000 because the land was too choked with scrub and weeds.

The Ministry for Primary Industries has yet to put a dollar figure on the cost to taxpayers, but market rates for seedlings put the cost of the order at about $400,000

According to this TV One report:

Only 200,000 seedlings were planted due to the land being too wild, while 600,000 were re-distributed and 400,000 mulched.

The $32 million joint venture with the Ngati Hine Forestry Trust was to enable planting of pine and manukau over the next 20 years, with a projected return of $63 million.

National’s Paul Goldsmith called the mulching “incompetence laid bare”.

“Now we learn that the inaugural venture in the One Billion Trees scheme was a bust, with seedlings destroyed,” he said.

This setback to the tree-planting programme was revealed just a day after Māori TV reported that Māori landowners were seeking new opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas and carbon emissions. At the same time, they were finding ways to turn pollution into profits by planting trees.

Ten years ago, Ngāti Porou Forestry planted a forest sink on mostly marginal land on the East Coast. Their goal was to absorb carbon dioxide and trade their carbon credits to polluters.

Today their foresight is taking off. Earlier this year the iwi signed a $4mil deal with Air New Zealand to sell carbon credits from its forestry to offset the airline’s carbon emissions.

Now, there’s a call from a new company, the Māori Carbon Foundation, to plant trees and sell carbon credits to polluters.

The foundation’s newly appointed Māori climate commissioner, Donna Awatere-Huata, says it’s a chance to make money from marginal land for generations to come by planting trees.

Wearing his Forestry ministerial hat, Shane Jones told the Herald “ambition” and “enthusiasm” had a part to play in planting delays which have slowed progress with the venture on the Far North forestry block.

Then he set about announcing a bundle of new spending initiatives from the Provincial Growth Fund, wearing his Regional Development hat.  Was he hoping this would divert public attention from the mulch?

Donna Awatere Huata, meanwhile, was sounding off in a press statement which reminded us she is the recently appointed Māori Climate Commissioner.

Her appointment had been proudly announced by the Māori Carbon Foundation, a private carbon trading business which plants forests on communal Māori land.

The Chairman on the Māori Carbon Foundation, Sir Mark Solomon, has announced the establishment of an Office of the Māori Climate Commissioner (OMCC) to provide independent Māori-focused research and advice that will contribute to Aotearoa meeting its obligations under the 2015 Paris Agreement on greenhouse-gas-emissions (to reduce emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030).

The Commissioner would provide research and advice based on a Māori world view, and be available to Māori, to politicians, government agencies, media, other New Zealanders, and to the global community.

The Commissioner would: facilitate opportunities for Māori to learn about climate change, and programmes to help Māori play their part in Aotearoa’s campaign to clean up the world; and also be available to engage with all other stakeholders in Aotearoa.

The Commissioner would operate independently of the Māori Carbon Foundation, the Crown, and other private/public agencies.

Reporting the appointment, the Herald said the foundation’s board includes former Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully and former National Party president Michelle Boag.

Because no public funding was involved, Sir Mark told the newspaper there was “no issue” regarding her being found guilty of fraud in 2005 and being sentenced to two years and nine months in jail.

In the press statement issued yesterday, Awatere-Huata said:

“The Interim Climate Change Committee does not seem to have taken into account, the costs and complexity for rural communities in the carbon transition. We understand they are working towards a package of ideas to assist the future permanent Climate Change Commission to develop carbon budgets. However the practical challenges of local economic adjustment must not be fudged. This policy area has been driven by too many global speeches, and the Maori perspectives on the ground and in the household needs to be addressed.

“Whilst its true we have international responsibilities, Māori are acutely aware that they will bear the brunt of substantial land changes. This is a great issue of equity. Many tribes have only just recovered the ownership of their land estates through the Treaty of Waitangi process. Now they will be required to undergo significant disruption and associated costs.

“It is essential that Minister Shaw does not allow his ambition for 2050 to be disconnected from the realities of genuine rural hardship for those who will pay the costs. The volume of bad news locally arising from downplaying domestic cost pressures will drown out any international benefits to New Zealand.

“It is essential that the Government gives clear signals over the critical issues of carbon pricing, transitional packages for rural industries, methane targets and sectoral impacts. Maori have a fear that the language of global aspiration is hiding the facts and figures of transition. The lack of engagement and resulting uncertainty will do tremendous damage to the Government’s relationship with Māori. For example, I wonder how much exposure has the Hon. Kelvin Davis in his Te Arawhiti role actually had in relation to the burden which will fall on the Māori asset base.”

It wasn’t the most propitious of times to be banging on about the neglect of Maori interests.

Dare we suggest she would do more good by heading to Northland, rolling up her sleeves and pitching in with the scrub-clearing and weeding that is required before more trees can be planted?


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