The climate change crisis is something that keeps Associate Professor Tom Roa awake at night.
“It’s one of the things I lose sleep over, our environment and how we treat the world,” he says. “It’s a big concern with the world we are leaving for our grandchildren and great grandchildren.”
Associate Professor Tom Roa (Ngāti Maniapoto, Waikato-Tainui) is a Senior Lecturer in the University’s Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies, and is part of a local committee hoping to “open local eyes and give a local voice” to climate change concerns.
The University of Waikato is supporting the Waikato Commonwealth Human Ecology Council (CHEC) committee to host a virtual conference on climate change, aligning with the United Nations COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland from 31 October to 12 November.
Over a two-week period, the Waikato project will bring together local climate change leaders and advocates from academia, government, the community, iwi, grassroots organisations and business to reflect on the themes and concerns emerging from COP26.
There will be daily online reflections from the international conference and live-streamed panel discussions featuring local Waikato climate heroes. These will be free to the public, accessible by an events page on the University’s website.
Speakers include Professor Frank Scrimgeour (Waikato Management School), Angela Strange and Jennifer Nickel (Waikato Regional Council), Dr Kēpa Morgan (Ngāti Pikiao, Te Arawa, General Manager, Ngāti Mākino Iwi Authority), Lorraine Dixon (Waikato-Tainui, Sustainability Lead) and Associate Professor Sandy Morrison (Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies).
“For us, it’s all about curating connections locally and globally.”
Associate Professor Roa was recommended by CHEC to attend COP26, but decided not to travel internationally due to concerns around Covid-19.
He realised that technology could connect local climate change advocates with the global event, and has worked with the Waikato CHEC committee - a group that includes former Hamilton Mayor Margaret Evans - to create a virtual online conference.
Despite the challenges of fighting a global pandemic, Associate Professor Roa says it is vital that people do not lose sight of the urgency of addressing the climate change crisis.
“Understandably so, Covid-19 has taken all our national and international attention, and it has sucked in all the air, so the climate change crisis takes a back seat. I’m glad that COP26 is happening. It’s a wakeup call in the climate change space. Too many of our community don’t know that COP26 is on, so giving it this local emphasis can wake us up as individuals and a community. If we are thinking globally and acting locally, this event can inspire people to take action in our own communities.”
The Waikato initiative focuses on Māori, Indigenous and grassroots community perspectives.
“Indigenous groups are the most vulnerable to the threat and effects of climate change, and there are so many examples in the Pacific and around that world of how that is.
“I worry about coastal communities. The marae at Marokopa will very soon be underwater, the water is lapping at the marae gates. At Kāwhia, erosion has been a concern for more than 15 years. That marae, at Maketu, is also in danger in the next 20 years of being underwater. These are people’s pasts, presents and futures under threat.”
He says that Indigenous knowledge, including mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge), plays a key role in solving the climate crisis.
Associate Professor Roa says there are “amazing things happening in the Waikato and King Country” with organisations such as Maungatautari Ecological Island Trust and Pūniu River Care, “they are all grassroots [organisations] where Māori and Pākēhā are working together. It’s really important that we recognise local efforts.”
He says the University and the wider community have rallied behind the online event.
“I am grateful for the support of the Vice-Chancellor and the University, and from ministers Nanaia Mahuta and James Shaw,” says Associate Professor Roa.
To find out more about the Waikato event, including the schedule and speakers, and to watch the daily 1pm NZDT local panel livestream event, click here.
For full coverage of COP26 in Glasgow, including live sessions, expert opinions and session playlists, visit the dedicated COP26 Youtube Channel.
This event follows the launch of the University of Waikato’s world-first Bachelor of Climate Change degree in September, with the first cohort of students starting in 2022.