22. 10. 2018

Natural Capital: New Zealand Raises the Bar

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I had a rather wonderful experience on Friday, listening to three Ministers in the New Zealand Government, and a handful of New Zealand business leaders, helping to launch a new initiative called the Aotearoa Circle, a coalition of public and private sector leaders committed to reversing the decline in New Zealand’s natural capital.

(Aotearoa is the Maori name for New Zealand, translating literally as ‘the land of the long white cloud’.)

Twenty-seven Chief Executives from both the private sector and government departments and agencies have given their name to support this initiative, covering four absolutely critical capital domains (water, soil, biodiversity and marine resources), underpinned by two cross-cutting themes in climate change and sustainable investment and finance.

It was also a wonderful moment for Forum for the Future, in that we were in at the start of this amazing project, finding ourselves in a position to challenge business leaders and senior officials in government to recognise that New Zealand is in a quite unique position as regards its natural capital. New Zealand ranks 8th out of 120 countries in terms of natural capital per citizen, with an unparalleled opportunity to put that natural wealth at the heart of a new narrative about progress.

Because the truth of it is, at the moment, that New Zealand is not quite the clean, green, ‘100% Pure’ country that most people imagine it to be. There’s mounting concern at the continuing degradation of its natural resources (for instance, with 200 million tonnes of topsoil lost every year through erosion and poor land management), and the very real risks that this poses to future generations. So the challenge is huge.

Two years on from that initial challenge, with lots of convening, cajoling and challenging along the way, not to mention a crucially important change of government, the Aotearoa Circle duly came into being. The strapline for the Circle is ‘Ma Te Kaitiakitanga ko te Tonuitanga’, which means, ‘Prosperity through Guardianship’.

And that’s one of the things that made the launch event so memorable for me personally (as half a Kiwi!) – the degree to which it was permeated through and through with Maori wisdom. New Zealand has made massive strides over the last few years in resolving some of the deep historical injustices inflicted on Maori by the British, with permanent settlements agreed with most of the Maori people.

So let me just end by quoting from the launch document: 

‘Maori knowledge, ‘matauranga’, encompasses not only what is known, but how it is known – the way of perceiving and understanding the world, as well as the values and systems of thought that underpin those perceptions. Matauranga embraces all that is distinctive about Maori culture and identity. The defining principle is whanaungatanga, kinship, where all the elements of creation within the living and spiritual realms are interrelated. All animate and inanimate elements are infused with mauri (spirit, or living essence) and related through whakapapa.’

Not exactly the usual way that people talk about natural capital! But people here feel really proud of this coming together of two very different cultural perspectives – as did I. 

There’s already a skeleton website online for people to check in on this initiative (www.theaotearoacircle.nz), and there’s an article of mine about natural capital which you can find there. 

Twitter: @AotearoaCircle #aotearoacircle

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