COP26 important for indigenous communities, but 'massive' barriers to entry exist - Māori lawyer

The UN Climate Change Conference is one of the most important meetings for indigenous communities, Māori activists say.

"For us as Māori it's essential that we have all the legal principles established, putting indigenous leadership at the forefront," says climate change lawyer Alison Cole.

The former UN war crimes lawyer is representing the Iwi Chairs Forum at COP26, drawing on all her experience to make their voices heard at the summit.

"There's massive barriers to entry to being here, that's really unacceptable. To be able to even read these legal texts that are shaping the entire future of our planet," Cole says.

"I went to Harvard Law School and Cambridge University, and it's still giving me migraines. Like, that's a massive, unacceptable barrier to entry."

Despite being on the other side of the world, she's focused on her whānau back home and the environmental impacts they are having to face.

"I'm thinking about aunties, uncles, and all our kaumatua doing that direct kaitiakitanga work," she says.

"We have so much on our plates every day with our awa, water monitoring, monitoring where I'm from."

Cole says her whānau in Taranaki is seeing how much big economic industries are impacting negatively on the environment. 

"So we have so much to deal with in Taranaki, with the dairy industry and the runoff and fertilizer poisoning our awa and myself personally on the takutai moana person."

Coles' main challenge to the Government when it comes to reaching climate change targets is to let Māori communities lead the way.

"We need to have proactive leadership from Māori to enable all of the lessons learned from COVID impact on Māori to come through in the climate space.

"That's the message that we need to come together and say to our political leaders, because they are just factoring where we are at because they're acting on the election cycle and our votes."

Made with support from Te Māngai Pāho and NZ On Air.

COP26 important for indigenous communities, but 'massive' barriers to entry exist - Māori lawyer