COP28 in UAE, Dubai, started with the usual flurry of hopeful promises to help keep alive the goal of limiting long-term global temperature rises to 1.5C. It is after all one of the most important COPs to date - humanity’s last attempt to put in place C02 emission reduction targets to stabilise global temperatures and avoid the critical 1.5C threshold.
But the kick-off of the 28th annual United Nations climate meeting was marred by the noticeable absence of the presidents of China and the US - the two leaders the world needs to take firm and drastic actions to reduce their combined 18 billion metric tonnes of C02 pollution. Part of that journey requires that indigenous peoples, as the owners and custodians of much of earth’s remaining biodiversity
As the void of political leadership shows itself at COP28, an unlikely hero has emerged to platform the event. Enter King Charles III. I got to witness the King’s spectacular entry into what will likely be remembered as his great stand on climate change.
I had the chance to meet His Majesty at the launch of the Wildfire Resilient Landscapes Network on the first day of COP28. Formed in response to the unprecedented wildfire threat being stoked by climate change, the new network was launched at a reception attended by the King and Marc Palahí, chief nature officer and CEO of the Lombard Odier Circular Bioeconomy Alliance (CBA).
I was invited by Palahi as one of CBA’s emerging Indigenous partners.
At COP27, I launched the Hinemoana Halo nature initiative in my role as vice-president of Conservation International. Now, one year later, our work will support Māori and Pacific IPLCs to develop our region’s first Indigenous-led and 100-per-cent-owned, nature market. We are building a pipeline of restorative conservation projects that will rewild our oceans within a lifetime and restore precious blue and green habitats within the Pacific - the region that holds the key to decelerating global carbon emissions.
Just hours before the King opened the COP28 climate summit, I was casually chatting with him about the role the Pacific Ocean can play as the world’s first defence against climate change and our aspirational target to create a sustainable conservation finance mechanism to help create nature and people positive solutions that can deliver and restore hope to our region.
He seemed genuinely intrigued and amused and I managed to generate a laugh from onlookers as I introduced myself as the “only Ocean girl in the room”. I had actually just stepped off a plane from Gisborne, one of the towns most impacted by the huge flooding that occurred during Cyclone Gabrielle earlier this year. My family comes from the small community of Rangitukia, one of the villages cut off from the roading network and ICT infrastructure after the event as torrents of slash smashed everything in its wake.
So here I am, a Gizzy girl fresh off the plane and attending an event with the King. What is the likelihood of that? I would say less than the 0.13 per cent contribution that New Zealand makes to the globe’s carbon footprint. And yet, here I was, holding court with the now dubbed “King of climate” somewhere in Dubai city - a city that completely contrasts Gisborne’s lack of infrastructure and flailing economy.
King Charles’ message to world leaders, in comparison, was anything but flailing. A few hours after our brief encounter of the fourth kind, he told world leaders on Friday that the warning signs of the climate crisis are being ignored and that the world is heading for “dangerous uncharted territory”, with devastating consequences for lives and livelihoods. And he is right.
We in Aotearoa have certainly been privy to dangerous uncharted territory, and no, I’m not taking about David Seymour becoming our future Deputy Prime Minister. I’m talking about the huge climate variability we are witnessing as New Zealand becomes the bellwether for climate change. The clock is counting down and time is not on our side.
The next year is predicted to see average global temperatures surpass 1.8C as the worst El Nino cycle witnessed to date continues to heat our oceans and create uncertain weather patterns and events.
Governments will take a decision on the Global Stocktake at COP28, which can be leveraged to accelerate ambition in their next round of climate action plans due in 2025. There’s huge uncertainty now about our shared future. The fortunes of indigenous peoples are now very much bound to the actions the world takes to stabilise global temperatures. We must keep alive the goal of limiting long-term global temperature rises to 1.5C. This was agreed by nearly 200 countries in Paris in 2015.
And so I acknowledge King Charles for stepping up and diverging from royal protocols to make a stand when key political leaders decided to stay at home. That takes courage and taking on the double-edged sword of public perception along with the inevitable cynicism of media waiting for the King to fall on that sword. It must be a lot of pressure, especially for a 75-year-old.
His voice provides a moral compass to the Western world and a reminder that its time to come home to nature. Part of that journey requires that indigenous peoples, as the owners and custodians of earth’s remaining biodiversity, are given the space to lead climate solutions informed by their cultural knowledge. The King understands that and has facilitated millions of dollars of finance to IPLCs who are making a difference. In the process, he is helping to keep the window for keeping as near as possible to 1.5C.
Mere Takoko(Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau a Apanui, Rongowhakaata) is vice-president of Conservation International Aotearoa which is working with iwi Māori and Pacific partners to establish the world’s first authentically indigenous-led nature market in Aotearoa and with our Pacific IPLC partners. T