Speaker's Science Forum: Alternative forms of environmental governance for disasters, disease, and climate change

Shaun Awatere and Melanie Mark-Shadbolt

Māori academics Dr Shaun Awatere, left, and Melanie Mark-Shadbolt outlined why alternative forms of environmental governance are needed to address the triple threat of disasters, disease, and climate change. Photo: Royal Society Te Apārangi.

“Here in Aotearoa New Zealand two-thirds of our rare ecosystems are under threat of collapse, and from what we can see it’s been getting worse. In fact, there is evidence to suggest New Zealand is losing species and ecosystems faster than nearly any other country,” says Te Tira Whakamātaki co-founder Melanie Mark-Shadbolt.

At the Speaker’s Science Forum on 10 August, MPs gathered to hear Māori academics Dr Shaun Awatere (Ngāti Porou) and Melanie Mark-Shadbolt (Ngāti Kahungunu, Rangitane, Ngāti Porou, Te Arawa, Ngāti Raukawa, Tūwharetoa, Whakatōhea, Te Ātiawa) discuss alternative forms of environmental governance.

As well as explaining alternative forms of environmental governance for disasters, disease, and climate change, the pair outlined the social problems associated with the growing issues around environmental degradation. On a positive note, they also shared examples of communities and new actors playing critical decision-making roles in how we conserve and sustainably use our natural resources, and how mātauranga (Māori knowledge) and Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi) are already guiding environmental policy and governance.

“Ecosystems are the foundation for human life. They perform a range of functions, often referred to as, among other things, ecosystem services. Without these free services human societies and economies would not operate at their current level. We depend on the services nature provides for air, water, food and fibre, shelter, and energy,” says Melanie.

Melanie outlined new and growing evidence on “ecosystem collapse” suggesting it is largely due to, among other factors, human pressure and climate impact, and it’s estimated that one-fifth of the world’s countries are at risk of their ecosystems collapsing because of the destruction of wildlife and their habitats.

“Ecological collapse across the globe has seen dramatic social and economic consequences for the local communities who rely on those resources. Ecological changes not only destroy livelihoods but can lead to severe health and economic impacts, and can generate resource-based conflicts.

“When more than half the global GDP depends on high-functioning biodiversity, and when natural services such as food, clean water and air, and flood protection have already been damaged by human activity, the risk of hitting tipping points grows. We know now that the decline in biodiversity and related beneficial services is dire.

“Now more than ever we need new solutions, that are holistic in nature, founded on interconnectedness, respect of and reconnect of people to nature, that are inclusive and future focused,” says Melanie.

Shaun asks, “why are we always arguing about risk?” In a recent paper co-authored by Shaun, the research team explored what drives risk perception in decision-making processes in Aotearoa New Zealand’s coastal and marine environment.

He notes three ‘big’ concepts or influences that suggest that others think differently: the positions of those involved in decision processes, the role of disciplines in circumscribing responses in decision-making, and the largely unknown filtering of environmental and economic options that come from different worldviews.

Shaun says that unacknowledged and invisible worldviews have a profound impact on environmental practices and outcomes because they underpin and fuel debates around what risk and uncertainties are acceptable and how benefits should be distributed - public versus private benefits; and investment decision and economy versus the environment. “Unless we recognize and understand these hidden influences, we simply cannot work with them. This insight has major implications for how risk and uncertainty ideas might be framed and navigated in policy.

“Whilst risk and uncertainty in environmental management is commonly considered in the context of how to reduce the potential impact of an activity, Māori have a different worldview perspective, thinking instead of how an activity can ‘enhance the mana’ of a natural resource in the first instance, rather than being limited to reducing adverse risk.

“Worldviews crucially affect how rights are perceived, and what risks may be taken with the balance of rights. Dominant worldviews have the most influence on how rights are distributed, for example, private property wins in economic growth model. Shifting the balance of rights means looking at the worldviews,” says Shaun.

Melanie is the Co-founder and Trustee of IRANZ member Te Tira Whakamātaki (TTW), Shaun is the Kaihautū Māori Research Impact Leader at Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research.

The Speaker’s Science Forum, supported by IRANZ, Science New Zealand, Universities New Zealand, and the Royal Society Te Apārangi, is an on-going series of lectures held at Parliament for Members of Parliament and invited guests. For more information see https://www.royalsociety.org.nz/what-we-do/our-expert-advice/speakers-science-forum/speakers-science-forum-2022/

Further Reading

View powerpoint slides [PDF 2.65 MB] from the event.

Le Heron, R., Lundquist, C. J., Logie, J., Blackett, P., Le Heron, E. L., Awatere, S., & Hyslop, J. (2022). A socio-ecological appraisal of perceived risks associated with mangrove (Mānawa) management in Aotearoa New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 1-19. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00288330.2022.2097270

Maxwell, K. H., Ratana, K., Davies, K. K., Taiapa, C., & Awatere, S. (2020). Navigating towards marine co-management with Indigenous communities on-board the Waka-Taurua. Marine Policy, 111, 103722. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308597X19301605

Maxwell, K., Awatere, S., Ratana, K., Davies, K., & Taiapa, C. (2020). He waka eke noa/we are all in the same boat: a framework for co-governance from Aotearoa New Zealand. Marine Policy, 121, 104213. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308597X20308599

Date posted: 19 September 2022

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