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Katene, Rahui: Resource Management (Climate Protection) Amendment Bill — Second Reading

[Sitting date: 17 June 2009. Volume:655;Page:4390. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]

RAHUI KATENE (Māori Party—Te Tai Tonga) : The Local Government and Environment Committee received a whopping 1,925 submissions from the public on the Resource Management (Climate Protection) Amendment Bill. A significant majority of the submissions were in favour of the bill and an even greater number again expressed support for action on climate change. It is therefore without dispute that this bill and, more particularly, climate change has an impact on the lives of people.

At a forum held just a few months ago in New York the president of the United Nations General Assembly revealed that climate change has a specific and especial impact upon indigenous peoples. The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues released a statement saying that indigenous peoples are “most directly affected by environmental degradation caused by climate change,” and are “the stewards of some of the most precious biologically diverse regions of the world,”. I am proud to advise the House that Professor Margaret Mutu and Catherine Davis, both born of the north, are currently representing Aotearoa at the 2-week United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. On this very day, Wednesday, 17 June, climate change issues are on the agenda. So it may well be that decisions we make in this House today are able to be influential on the world stage.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has concluded that there will be a particular and detrimental impact on traditional indigenous ways of life. The indigenous peoples of the Pacific, South-east Asia, the Himalayas, North America, South America, Africa, and Europe all stand to be threatened by global warming as an immediate consequence of their direct dependence on natural resources. In the Arctic region the Inuits are prevented from continuing their traditional hunting practices as the ice breaks up around them. Pasifika people are losing coral atolls beneath rising seas. The tribes in Borneo watch as their rainforests catch fire. In Tibet the people suffer as they see their medicinal alpine plants disappear before their eyes and their sacred glaciers melt. And for tangata whenua our traditional links, through Hineahuone to Papatūānuku to the land, are a consequent reminder of the full spiritual, emotional, and moral implications of climate change for our people.

Our special relationship with the land, waterways, and other natural resources, as expressed through kaitiakitanga, also provides us with a strong foundation for making a commitment to environmental integrity by addressing climate change. So we support the intention of this bill: that climate change be addressed via local government and the Resource Management Act process. The bill is the manifestation of that old 1970s catchcry “think global, act local”, or, as the Japanese multinationals have coined it, “think ‘glocal’ ”. Acting “glocal” might mean that local government actually turns to tangata whenua to understand how our traditional knowledge has been applied in order to lessen the impact of natural disasters.

We all understand that climate change is a major threat and is already having adverse effects on the environment. As all the submissions pointed out, there is a desperate lack of action on the issue. We also know that urgent action is needed to meet Kyoto obligations. Given that knowledge, it just does not make sense that the select committee recommended that the bill not be passed. The rationale for failing to support the bill was that the committee thought that climate change should be addressed nationally, not via local government and the Resource Management Act. It should not be an either-or situation: we can take action at a local level and at a national level too.

The Māori Party has a different view. As the independent Māori voice of this Parliament, we believe that it is dangerous to delay any further, given the urgency in dealing with emissions at the regional level. Taking action to adapt to climate change, and ensuring that tangata whenua are actively involved in this action, is critical. The cost and the regulatory burden that were rejected by opponents to the bill must be seen in the wider context of urgency and the extent of the challenge posed by climate change. The bill merely seeks to reinstate one tool of regulation, while recognising that many tools will be needed to address the issue.

We thought the submission from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, was of particular relevance. The commissioner expressed qualified support for the bill, given the regulatory vacuum following the 2004 amendment to the Resource Management Act. She also recommended an amendment to the bill to ensure development of a national environmental standard to provide national guidance on effective use of resources. It was a perfect example of support for action on climate change by demonstrating a national approach and local government responsibility hand in hand. That is a holistic approach where we all recognise that we play a part in maintaining and strengthening the resilience of healthy ecosystems.

I cannot help but contrast such an approach with all the goings-on around the emissions trading scheme. The revised rules for the emissions trading scheme make it clear that big industries—the major emitters of greenhouse gases—will receive over $1 billion in subsidies and rebates for about 90 percent of the electricity price increases coming out of the scheme. That is great for the big emitters, but more doom and gloom for ordinary New Zealanders. Household consumers will pay the full price rise. The fairness test surely requires that all sectors should pay in the same proportion at each stage. There should not be blanket exemptions in some sectors, while families suffer. The emissions trading scheme reform came up with over 90 percent of the charges resulting from the new amended scheme falling on consumers, who account for just a third of the emissions.

Coming back to this bill, the original intention was that councils should be required to consider climate change when issuing consents or formulating policy, but do so in conjunction with a national policy statement or national environmental standard to provide guidance. It was literally the best of both worlds: all sectors committed to change starting at the same time. Tackling climate change requires action at a local level, as greenhouse emissions occur from a wide variety of sources. Yet what did we find when the bill came back from the select committee? It was very much the same scenario that confronted the emissions trading scheme reform. Ironically, the opposition that was attached to this bill—opposition to making climate change a local government responsibility—came from much the same sources as the opposition to the emissions trading scheme. I am referring to the submissions from business, industry groups, local government, energy generators, and some environmental and community groups. The same groups that oppose the emissions trading scheme are also opposed to supporting fair mechanisms that make positive steps towards addressing climate change.

The Māori Party’s core position is that we believe that the ability of councils to consider climate change ought to be in place at least until a national instrument is well established and shown to be effective. Why put off till tomorrow what can be achieved today? We believe that the intention of this bill was to strengthen both the Resource Management Act 1991 and the Resource Management (Energy and Climate Change) Amendment Act 2004 in ways that would consider the effects of greenhouse emissions—and the discharge of contaminants on to land, and into air and water—on climate change. The existing legislation lacked teeth in both these areas, and the Resource Management (Climate Protection) Amendment Bill was a key means to create an opportunity for regional councils to consider such effects and impacts. We are proud to speak up, and out, for urgent action on climate change, and to declare the support of the Māori Party for this important bill.