Rau rangatira mā, e huihui nei, tēnei aku mihi māhana ki a koutou.
Nau mai, haere mai ra ki Te Whare Kawana o Te Whanganui-a-Tara.
Distinguished guests, warm greetings to you all, and welcome to Government House Wellington.
It’s a real privilege to host this hui of the Aotearoa Circle.
Having worked in both the private and public sector – I know how valuable it is to bring this level of cross-sector commitment to the most compelling issue of our times: the wellbeing of our environment in Aotearoa New Zealand, in a world where human dominance of the ecosystems is jeopardising the future of our planet.
I am confident that the expertise, influence and firepower represented in this room vastly improves the odds of turning things around.
Whether it’s raising public awareness, supporting research or contributing to programmes of action, the community of interest that you represent will validate the fundamental changes we need to make to the way we live.
We all need to have cause for optimism, to believe that effective change is possible.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to serve in the US Congress, recently expressed the challenge this way:
“Hope is not something that you have. Hope is something that you create with your actions. Hope is something you have to manifest into the world, and once one person has hope, it can be contagious. Other people start acting in a way that has more hope.”
It seems to me that the Aotearoa Circle is well placed to generate such hope. That hope needs to be contagious if we are to achieve buy-in to comprehensive and fundamental change.
Last week I hosted presentations by 40 young people from Pacific Islands, following their workshop on the impact of global warming in the Pacific.
Their despair and anger was palpable. They spoke about the very real prospect of losing their ancestral homelands, along with their cultures and languages.
They pleaded with the audience to make lifestyle changes to help lower our stubbornly high carbon emissions. They advocated for more education about climate change and environmental awareness in our schools. They railed against what they perceived to be inadequate action at governmental and inter-governmental level.
Their words reinforced for me, and no doubt for others in the audience, that their predicament is our predicament, that Aotearoa New Zealand’s responsibilities extend across the Pacific, and that joint actions with our Pacific neighbours, drawing on indigenous knowledge, has to be part of the equation.
It has taken 27 years for the issues raised in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to become widely accepted.
The Convention on Biological Diversity, signed the same month, has yet to attract the same headlines as melting ice-caps, storm surges in Miami and the Pacific Islands, and droughts in the American mid-west.
Here, Environment Aotearoa 2019, the joint report of Statistics New Zealand and Ministry for the Environment, makes it clear that our ecosystems are already under threat and our biodiversity has been dramatically reduced.
We have destroyed about two thirds of our native forest and we’ve drained 90 percent of our wetlands. And we’ve largely replaced them with a monoculture of rye grass and clover. Exotic predators, such as Stoats, possums and rats cover over 94 percent of our land. Exotic plant species, some of which are invasive, outnumber native plant species. You know the statistics better than me, and I don’t need to remind this group of the dire threats to our marine environment.
The challenge for us all is to generate momentum for urgent action to address the state of our fresh water, marine life, biodiversity, and soil health. And to embrace financial and economic models that connect our future prosperity with environmental sustainability.
We can’t leave it up to a handful of eco warriors to lead the charge. Every one of us shares responsibility for the issues raised in the latest Report. And every one of us shares a responsibility for the future we bequeath to succeeding generations.
I know you have all thought deeply about these challenges, and I am keen to hear how the Aotearoa Circle intends to proceed.
What role you will play in influencing our citizen’s decisions and behaviours, from an individual level through to institutional, corporate and government level.
My thanks to Sir Rob and everyone who has helped bring the Aotearoa Circle into being, and I wish you every success in creating ripples of hope and action across Aotearoa and beyond.
Kia Ora huihui tatou katoa.