Collaboration for climate justice in Aotearoa New Zealand

Thu Jun 30, 2022
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How can a more joined up approach to environmental monitoring and reporting help enable positive decisions around the climate crisis?

How can a more joined up approach to environmental monitoring and reporting help enable positive decisions around the climate crisis? 

As part of Microsoft’s Open Data Campaign and the ODI’s three-year partnership with Microsoft, we have been supporting a collaboration to launch a ‘Lighthouse Project’ – a digital pilot of an online demonstrator – to highlight the power of taking a more collaborative and comprehensive approach to environmental monitoring and reporting.

Human-induced climate change has ‘caused widespread adverse impacts and related losses and damages to nature and people, beyond natural climate variability’ according to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2022, and ‘has caused substantial damages, and increasingly irreversible losses, in terrestrial, freshwater and coastal and open ocean marine ecosystems’.

The impact of this is stark in the Kenepuru stream in the Greater Wellington region of Aotearoa New Zealand. There, as in other areas, flooding, rising sea levels, and pollution from urbanisation, are combining to create hazardous areas that harm the environment and the local populace.

It is important to note that these forces of climate degradation were not created by all people equally, nor are equally felt. The settler colonialism that swept the country in the 19th century as in similar countries like Australia and Canada – and the proceeding industrialisation birthed from its extractive worldview were root causes of this environmental destruction. Much of this has been at the expense of the indigenous Māori, and the Ngāti Toa iwi in particular, regarding Te Awarua-o-Porirua (the Porirua Harbour catchment) and Kenepuru Stream.

How data can support ‘climate justice’

The enormous challenges facing society today, such as climate justice (a concept that goes beyond climate action to address the just division, fair sharing, and equitable distribution of the benefits and burdens of climate change and responsibilities to deal with climate change) will require more than open data and data collaboration to address them.

But data can help equip government, businesses, activists and communities with useful tools and insights to aid efforts around climate justice, such as monitoring pollution and erosion levels, or capturing stories from local inhabitants to help guide restoration activities.

In 2019, Aotearoa New Zealand’s Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment published ‘Focusing Aotearoa New Zealand’s environmental reporting system’. This report articulated major challenges the country faces in relation to significant deficits in environmental data. As a part of work to respond to these challenges, New Zealand’s Ministry for the Environment (MfE) has partnered with Microsoft to understand how these challenges could be addressed using modern digital technologies.

Lighthouse Project

As part of Microsoft’s Open Data Campaign and the ODI’s three-year partnership with Microsoft, we have helped launch a digital pilot of an online demonstrator – a ‘Lighthouse Project’ – to highlight the power of taking a more collaborative and comprehensive approach to environmental monitoring and reporting.

The partners in this collaboration include Ngāti Toa Rangatira, the AWARE Group, Wellington City Council, Porirua City Council and Greater Wellington Regional Council. Beyond just collaboration over data, this partnership requires collaboration across philosophies, as a ‘western worldview’ has helped cause these issues. Doing better in the future depends upon many things, including taking better account of mātauranga Māori – the knowledge of the indigenous Māori people of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Online demonstrator

An online demonstrator was built by AWARE Group using Microsoft technologies, with the support of local city, iwi, and regional government. It is novel in its combination of indigenous knowledge with existing data to demonstrate how the environment of the Kenepuru stream and Te Awarua-o-Porirua have changed over time.

Combining historic records and oral histories from Ngāti Toa with publicly held data and Microsoft machine learning tools, the platform visually represents the Kenepuru Stream and Porirua Harbour over time, through colonial land reclamation and other human influences. It also shows how these regions may change in the future with the impacts of climate change.

 “Our cities are built on patterns, and with climate change those patterns are changing. Understanding and communicating those changes in a way people can see in their own lives, at a local level, is key to people adapting their lives and communities to climate impacts, as well as making our cities smarter, better places to live” – Sean Audain, Strategic Planning Manager at Wellington City Council

The ODI led workshops to bring people together around the online demonstrator, including those that focused on the following:

  • Data ecosystem mapping – a methodology that helps to understand what organisations hold the data we need, and how it can be accessed, used and shared to create value for different groups.
  • Ecosystem engagement planning – we planned the outreach across Aotearoa New Zealand that could help us scale the initiative once the pilot was launched, to help people contribute to making data work for everyone
  • Data infrastructure deep-dive – to ensure the data and data infrastructure was relevant and maintainable by the community, we focused on the core data infrastructure already available, and signalled areas for improvement.

It is important to note that, at the ODI, we are learning as much from this project as we are contributing. We greatly appreciate our partners in Aotearoa New Zealand who have been teaching us about data stewardship, sovereignty, and governance in Māori context.

Refining the model

Launching, sharing and proving the concept of the demonstrator were crucial first steps, but they are only the beginning. To go forward meaningfully we will need to:

  • refine the model with more open and shared data to build a better tool for the Kenepuru stream and an environmental reporting system for Aotearoa New Zealand
  • scale up the model by collaborating with data holders, local authorities, and Māori iwi across the country to support the national goals of MfE
  • ensure this collaboration is happening in partnership with local iwi/Māori every step of the way, so that historical inequities are not repeated, and climate justice can hope to be achieved

“The voice of mana whenua needs to clearly shine under any light, and the history and experience of Ngāti Toa must be given prominence. This requires more information than existing online sources, as today’s mapping systems were developed and dominated by colonial government survey regimes. The Lighthouse Project is just the start of what could be possible with collaborative efforts like this,” – Ngāti Toa rangatira, Robert McClean.

Get in contact

If you have questions or ideas regarding this work, or would like to get involved, then please email us.