The Kyoto Protocol is an international legally binding agreement requiring industrialised countries, including Aotearoa, to reduce their collective emissions of greenhouse gases.
In 2008, the Labour Government established the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) by introducing the Climate Change (Emissions Trading and Renewable Preference) Bill.
The Maori Party opposed the bill for a number of reasons. Since its inception, we believe the ETS should have reduced emissions. As a consequence of the failure of the ETS, Maori have been clearly disadvantaged through a huge reduction in the value of assets received in the Treaty settlements process.
We voiced our concerns at the limitations of the bill because we believed it was focused on trading, rather than reducing emissions.
The economic imperatives heavily outweighed environmental responsibilities. We also believed it was relatively ineffective and created inequalities, including the subsidisation of the nation's largest polluters at the cost of households and small-medium businesses.
We believed the worst polluters would purchase cheap overseas carbon credits and pay their way out of the pollution they created in Aotearoa - and we were right.
Unfortunately, ordinary New Zealand families now pay for that pollution through increased power and petrol prices.
Our philosophy is that those who pollute should pay - relative to how much pollution they create. The ETS, in fact, has allowed pollution and the offset of trading credits to stay within the Kyoto target but it has failed to include incremental emissions reduction targets. The current system emphasises trading (and maintaining the conditions for it) but the overarching problem of unsustainable economic growth and the environmental threats that it can create still have to be addressed.
As a result of our concerns over the original bill in 2009, we negotiated a raft of very significant amendments which focused on both maintaining environmental integrity reducing the costs for our low-income whanau and making industry accountable for cleaning up.
We expected as a result of our negotiated gains that there would be investment in low-emission technologies, but this has not happened and as a result we have seen forest owners leaving the climate change scheme. Some iwi were given forests as part of their Treaty settlement and these were assets with a value of between $20 and $30 per carbon credit. These credits have been reduced in value to as little as $3 per credit, therefore reducing the value of the overall settlements. The loss is expected to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. This is unacceptable and hapu and iwi should be compensated for these losses, as Maori have a right to have their Treaty settlements protected.
Last month, the Government confirmed they would not intervene to put a fixed price on carbon, despite a possible $600 million Treaty claim from the Climate Change Iwi Leadership Group due to the reduced value of the carbon credits on their forests under the current failed scheme. Iwi Leadership Group spokesman Chris Insley said that a million hectares of Maori land could be planted over the next decade if the Government found a way to stimulate carbon prices. The Maori Party believes we should be looking at all avenues to encourage emission reduction which also stimulates economic growth.
Last month, the Climate Change Iwi Leadership Group made a number of key statements in their submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. They criticised New Zealand's Biennial Report, stating it failed to recognise that the current policies allow for the emitters to offset their obligations with low-cost credits without the need to reduce emissions. They also highlighted the fact that current policies incentivised major emitters who have purchased cheap Ukrainian Assigned Amount Units (AAUs) while at the same time charging Maori - and indeed New Zealand - householders exorbitant prices for AAUs. In addition, the Ministry for the Environment forecasts a 50 per cent increase in New Zealand's emissions in the next decade.
Maori have rights over large areas of land, are significant players in the primary industry sector and are also leaders in a large range of economic development initiatives. We believe the conditions Maori are facing under the ETS highlight human rights breaches and are also consistent with statements issued in 2011 by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, who reiterated that indigenous peoples have the right to retain "the capacity for decision-making over their social, political organisation, lands and resources, wider way of life and relationships with the Crown".