A delegation of Far North iwi joined Māori from around the motu (country) in Wellington last week to challenge the Government's plans to remove exotic trees from the permanent category of the Emissions Trading Scheme.
Iwi representatives — including Te Aupōuri — together with Māori forestry leaders joined Māori trade leadership group Te Taumata to discuss the proposed forestry changes which stand to strip $7 billion from the Māori economy.
The Government announced in March it was planning to exclude the future permanent plantings of exotic forests like radiata pine from the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) in order to "better manage carbon farming".
The announcement has resulted in a huge backlash from Māori, who say the proposals infringe on their rights as Māori landowners, with some threatening court action should the changes go ahead.
The Māori collective met last Thursday at the Beehive to discuss the issue with Ministers James Shaw (Climate Change), Stuart Nash (Forestry), Willie Jackson (Māori Development), Nanaia Mahuta (Foreign Affairs), Rino Tirikatene (Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Māori Trade), Meka Whaitiri (Ikaroa-Rāwhiti MP) and Kiritapu Allan (Conservation).
Te Taumata chairman Chris Karamea Insley said the group had delivered a strong and consistent view that the proposal would have significant negative impacts on all Māori interests.
"It was a big meeting with a lot of heavy hitters from Māori forestry, as well as tribes from around Aotearoa," Insley said.
"This is not just an economic issue, but a social, environmental and cultural issue and therefore a Treaty issue.
"Māori land is different to general land. We own it collectively and regard land as an extension of our very being."
The Government's decision to remove exotics like radiata pine from the ETS forms part of the Government's Emissions Response Plan to the 2021 Climate Change Commission Final Report.
Of all New Zealand's ETS forestry, it is estimated that around 30 per cent is on Māori land, with that share expected to grow to 40 per cent in the coming years.
If the changes to the ETS are locked in, places like the Far North and the East Coast are said to be hardest hit.
Insley argued the Māori forestry industry could continue creating local New Zealand carbon offsets for free in order to meet the country's emissions targets.
Under the proposed changes, however, Insley alleged the Government would have to pay billions of dollars in international offsets.
"Māori landowners have already got trees in nurseries in preparation for planting out on Māori land," Insley said.
"These forests will create local offsets, which in turn would cost the Government and, more importantly, the taxpayer nothing.
"We were incredibly encouraged by what we heard from the five Māori Labour caucus ministers who attended the meeting and trust they have taken our concerns seriously."
Following the hui (meeting), a Māori technical team and governance group were established and are expected to provide feedback to the Government in the coming week.
In the context of the Far North, Māori forestry has been of enormous economic, social and cultural benefit to Far North communities since the 1960s.
If radiata pine is removed from the ETS, Far North iwi Te Aupōuri is expected to lose $120 million over 50 years.
Te Aupōuri commercial operations manager Penetaui Kleskovic said last week's meeting with the Government was overdue.
"Carbon-absorbing Māori land should be able to offset emissions from Māori farms if the new emissions report is going to be equitable," Kleskovic said.
"For Te Aupōuri, the future of carbon forestry on our whenua is a Treaty matter.
"Colonisation took most of our resources, so we will defend vigorously through court or the ballot box our remaining rights."
The Northland Age approached Minister Nash regarding the meeting to confirm whether a working group had been officially established and a pause put on plans to eliminate radiata pine from the scheme.
Nash would neither confirm nor deny the claim, saying no final decisions had yet been made.
"We had a positive and productive conversation, and no decisions have been made. We're continuing to talk this through," Nash said.
"We understand the concerns and take our relationship with Treaty partners very seriously.
"What I can say is that we're still going through all the submissions from the consultation process — there were around 500 submissions made — so we want to ensure they have all been looked over closely before we make any announcements.
"I look forward to updated advice from officials once the consultation process is complete."
Minister Shaw echoed Nash's sentiment.
"The ministers will ensure the matters discussed are considered as part of the decision Cabinet is yet to make about how the Emissions Trading Scheme can best support the right tree, in the right place, for the right reason," Shaw said.
"What came out of this discussion in terms of the next steps was a commitment to work together to find a way through the issues that were presented at the meeting.
"We look forward to further engaging with the group as we continue to deliver on our commitment to tackle climate change, protect native wildlife and support local communities in ways that support Māori."
Minister Jackson was approached for comment, however his office declined, saying he and the other ministers were only at the meeting to support Minister Nash and Minister Shaw.