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To the leaders of Aotearoa New Zealand,

We pen this letter to you in the hope that you may elect to hear our voices as our elected representatives. As Pacific peoples of Aotearoa New Zealand, we call on you to recognise that New Zealand’s climate stance has direct consequences on the entire region and choose to take heed of the voices of Pacific peoples here in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Today (September 27) marks one year since the 2019 climate strikes, where the Wellington Pacific Climate Warriors co-hosted and led, alongside our village of Pacific elders, rangatahi, and tamariki, a 40,000 strong strike to the steps of Parliament in our nation’s capital. In Tamaki-Makaurau, our Auckland-based team led 80,000 people marching to the city centre, standing together with us and voices from around the country and the region demanding real action from our elected officials.

Reflecting on that day a year later, we cannot understate its significance to our history and what it meant to Pacific communities across the motu to see our rangatahi lead and be listened to. It was significant to many people for many different reasons, but especially to our Pacific community throughout the nation’s length and breadth. In every major city and town, Pacific young people marched alongside their elders, tangata whenua, and peoples from all walks of life, united in their solidarity, led by the voices of those at the frontlines of the climate crisis.

Yet despite the contributions of Pacific peoples to New Zealand and the place this country holds in the Pacific, we continue to have to fight to be heard and have our experiences and knowledge valued for the gift that they are

At a recent political panel on Climate Justice ahead of the 2020 elections, politicians were asked what their thoughts were on the climate change commission lacking Pacific Island representation. The responses they offered were indicative of the deep-seated thinking that continues to exclude the very people that they hope to represent

  • Response 1 – “A conscious decision was made to have the makeup of the climate commission be expert-based rather than representative.”

This appallingly tone-deaf response is profoundly problematic and indicative of the type of thinking which has landed us here in the first place. Let us be frank – expertise and representation are not mutually exclusive. Who better to help shape the path forward than those who have the first-hand experience of the most severe consequences of climate change? Who better to deepen the level of thought on this issue than those whose cultures have modelled sustainability for thousands of years? This response to the need for greater Pacific insight in the Commission’s work is dismissive of the lived experiences and expertise of those of us on the frontlines of climate change. It is a response that removes the human complexities of climate impacts and presumes that we can just techno-fix and policy-think our way out of this, void of any of the nuance and depth offered by the Pacific. This kind of thinking from our political leaders contributes to why young people expect their voices to be silenced by the system rather than amplified. 

  • Response 2: “The mandate of the climate commission is to determine New Zealand’s domestic response to climate change.”

New Zealand’s domestic response to climate change directly impacts the Pacific. The nature of this impact depends on how sufficiently New Zealand’s domestic policies are informed by Pacific peoples who understand both the New Zealand and Pacific context. The above-mentioned response, however, assumes that New Zealand’s domestic policy will not impact the Pacific. It disregards the Pacific communities in Aotearoa and our connection to this crisis, as well as New Zealand’s role and responsibilities to Pacific Realm countries. The commission cannot determine New Zealand’s domestic response without considering its international obligations – especially concerning the commitments it has made within the region. Forgoing Pacific peoples’ voices on the climate commission sends a clear message around the value placed on Pacific knowledge and expertise in decision-making. It is no longer sufficient to invite us to the conversation or decision-making table without genuine recognition of the importance of our expertise and knowledge.

  • Response 3: “That New Zealand relies on the advice and direction of Pacific island nations on what the response specifically to adaptation needs are for the Pacific.”

There are two areas here that need to be clarified. Firstly; New Zealand’s Adaptation work within the region does not negate the need for Pacific expertise on the Commission – it affirms it. What is clear from the position of Pacific peoples is that New Zealand’s aid to the Pacific centres heavily on Adaptation. However, the Pacific has been clear that it cannot live in a perpetual state of adaptation and that mitigation is the highest priority. This means that New Zealand’s domestic response must prioritize mitigation if it is to abide by the Paris Agreement and its commitments to the Pacific in the Boe Declaration. Secondly, while New Zealand relies on Pacific Islands nations’ advice for adaptation needs, it must also uphold the promises made to mitigate the crisis itself through its domestic policies. This has been the work of Pacific climate advocates throughout Aotearoa, who understand New Zealand’s domestic context and are the bridge between Aotearoa and the wider region. The Commission must plug this knowledge gap and appoint Pacific expertise if it is to be effective in its work –  both domestically and within the region.

New Zealand must honour the Pacific’s contribution to its success and development. It is critical that, in doing so, we centre the retention of Pacific identities, languages, and cultures in supporting climate justice work for and in the Pacific. This inherently requires the amplification of Pacific voices to ensure the needs, aspirations, and solutions found throughout Pacific communities are used effectively and efficiently.

We call on our leaders to demonstrate their commitment to the Pacific Climate Warriors – Climate Priorities.


Pacific Climate Warriors – 2020 Climate Priorities

Aotearoa New Zealand needs to honour its role as a Pacific nation.

Aotearoa New Zealand is connected to the Pacific region by whakapapa, geography, people, culture, and language. Throughout New Zealand, we foster and benefit from a range of close relationships and shared history with the Pacific nations and peoples. These include personal and family relationships and connections established through education, commerce, tourism, and politics. The relational space shared by New Zealand and the rest of the Pacific region clarify that we must act as more than just a neighbour to the Pacific – New Zealand is by its very being, history, and location, a Pacific nation1.

In advancing New Zealand’s goal of a stable, prosperous, and resilient Pacific2, we must continue to partner with Pacific communities in New Zealand, as well as with Pacific Island nations, to meet the challenges presented in addressing climate change. 

The New Zealand government has taken some initial steps to ensure New Zealand leads the world in combating climate change. In advancing this work, we implore all political leaders and their parties to include protecting and enriching the Pacific as part of its climate work. We urge the current and future Governments to grow the local and regional economy sustainably, and to protect and enhance our natural environment – to do so would be to live up to the responsibilities of New Zealand as a Pacific nation. 

To put into action what is needed for New Zealand to live up to its role as a Pacific nation, as a guiding principle, we expect any future Government to prioritise:

Amplifying Pacific voices: “nothing about Pacific, without Pacific.”

Our Election asks will include asking how candidates and parties will:

    • Ensure they speak to Pacific peoples, and not just for Pacific peoples.
    • Commit to building climate awareness in Pacific communities, and developing and sharing accessible, relevant information and engagement efforts.
    • Take on the responsibility of ensuring Pacific peoples see themselves in New Zealand’s response to climate change.
    • Ensure those most affected by the climate crisis are at the decision-making tables. 
    • Support Pacific communities to represent their interests and priorities. 
    • Enhance the work of the Climate Change Commission with the inclusion of Pacific expertise and representation in its membership. 
    • Commit to moving past mere conversations and into taking Pacific-specific actions and solutions.

Strengthening our reciprocal diplomatic, trade and development relationships with the Pacific, to centre long-term resilience for Pacific communities 

Our Election asks will include asking how candidates and parties will:

    • Grow trade, development, and migration relationships between New Zealand and Pacific nations to support and advance a prosperous region.
    • Ensure that Pacific communities in receipt of climate change-related development assistance are supported to effectively, efficiently, and equitably access and absorb this funding. 
    • Work collaboratively to advance the adaptation and mitigation work of Pacific nations.
    • Work diplomatically to advance the work of Pacific nations in addressing climate change on the global stage. 
    • Increase sustainable Government investment in climate change support in the Pacific region. 
    • Enact a rigorous programme of work to reform fossil fuel subsidies, which will centre the needs of communities vulnerable to such subsidy reform. This should include renewing and expanding the Friends of Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform membership and mission.  
    • Transition from fossil fuels by actively enhancing and investing in renewable energy sources and industries. 

Committing to New Zealand’s fair share of work in limiting global warming3

Our Election asks will include asking how candidates and parties will:

    • Restrict the global increase in temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. 
    • Urgently develop a climate plan that takes an evidence-based, goal-oriented approach to restrict global warming, including recommitting to a Nationally Determined Contribution that will enable at least a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050. 
    • Acknowledge New Zealand’s fair share of emissions reduction for 1.5 degrees considering global equity and historical responsibility
    • Scale-up overseas climate finance to close as much of the gap between the emissions reductions that are possible domestically and what is New Zealand’s fair share, to ensure those who least caused the problem is adequately supported, including Pacific island nations
    • Endorse the best available scientific findings as the primary way we inform our national climate policies – especially those of the three IPCC Special Reports on the Oceans and Cryosphere, Global Warming of 1.5 and Climate Change & Land Use.

Meeting the ambition required for climate justice with a just transition through equitable employment, education and social development

Our Election asks will include asking how candidates and parties will:

    • Utilise and invest in significant social development to allow for an urgent and just transition and to resolve the tension between meeting a 1.5°C target with the needs of households, communities, industries, and regions.
    • Manage the impacts and maximise the opportunities of the changes brought about by the transition to a low emissions economy.
    • Ensure labour market planning and economic recovery from COVID-19 includes sustainable education and employment pathways for Pacific communities, focusing on equitable just transitions to both a low-emissions economy and one that has weathered a global pandemic. 
    • Reform the social welfare and health systems in New Zealand to centre the needs of those most vulnerable to economic transition, in light of the dual crises of COVID-19 and climate change. 
    • Ensure the essential nature of ‘blue-collar’ workers (and their families and communities) is equitably represented and valued in our transition to a low-emission economy.

Honouring international commitments to ensure that we are working in ways that support Pacific regional priorities

Our Election asks will include asking how candidates and parties will:

    • Commit to meeting the call set out by Pacific forum leaders in the Boe Declaration4 and Kainaki II Declaration5.
    • Declare and demonstrate support for the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network (PICAN) Policy Demands6.

1 https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/nz-boosts-support-climate-action-across-pacific#:~:text=%E2%80%9CTo%20help%20deliver%20on%20New,change%20support%20in%20the%20region..  

2 https://www.mfat.govt.nz/assets/OIA/R-R-The-Pacific-reset-The-First-Year.PDF

3  Oxfam Report: A Fair 2030 Target for Aotearoa https://www.oxfam.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Oxfam-NZ-Briefing-A-Fair-2030-Target-for-Aotearoa.pdf 

4  Boe Declaration (also known as Biketawa Plus) https://www.forumsec.org/2018/09/05/boe-declaration-on-regional-security/ 

5  Kainaki II Declaration for Urgent Climate Action Now https://www.forumsec.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/50th-Pacific-Islands-Forum-Communique.pdf 

6 Policy Demands to Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum: https://pacificdemands.org/?fbclid=IwAR2TKAEuGiJFLI0CMTQyeeWxYrTA9h-QeTjma__qmgjiATp_JkvYGqKphBE#sign 

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