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Arctic Circle

Hinemoana Halo: Māori-led Ocean Solutions and Nature Positive Carbon++ Investments

By: Mere Takoko, Vice President, Conservation International Aotearoa and Ralph Chami, Co-Founder, Blue Green Future

Tuia ki runga, tuia ki raro

Tuia ki roto, tuia ki waho

Tuia te here tangata

Tūturu o whiti Whakamaua kia tina

Tina! Haumi e, hui e Taiki e!

Stitch the celestial energies,

to the terrestrial energies within,

and without bind the kinship strands of humanity permanent,

consistent are the fibers of light,

Draw these matters to a single point and give them substance,

The wisdom is bound, it collects,

It is held!

Aotearoa New Zealand, evolved in isolation, the last landmass to be inhabited by humans. For millions of years our lands and waters have been home to an estimated 80,000 species found nowhere else on the planet, testament to our status as a global biodiversity hotspot.

We may be at the edge of the world, but we too are fighting to mitigate widespread ecological collapse. Almost two thirds of Aotearoa’s rare ecosystems and thousands of species are either threatened or at risk of extinction. Human-induced climate variation is the latest warning sign that nature is no longer able to absorb the impacts of industrial activities. Our moana (oceans) are in crisis and so are our coastal Māori and Pacific communities who are critical guardians of ocean biodiversity.

Climate change is no longer on our doorstep, it is in our homes. Our actions today will decide whether we can defend our territories, our cultural heritage, and our future generations from the coming changes. As global temperatures continue to rise beyond 1.5C, we need to transition now, Ināia tonu nei, to a low carbon and circular global economy. Like our great ancestor, Maui, we must be innovators and problem solvers. And it is with this in mind that we must return to the moana to find solutions.

Arctic Circle Chair H.E. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson was one of the first statesmen to recognize the similarities between communities living at the extremities of the world, that climate change connects us all: “The global climate challenge, cooperation, and working alliances between Arctic communities and leaders from Pacific Island states make a lot of sense because we are the only nations in the world where the effects of climate change can be seen happening so clearly. Our countries almost have a moral duty to bring this evidence to the global community.” From 2017 to 2019, Chairman Grímsson did just this, co-hosting with Conservation International a series of learning exchanges between Iceland and the Pacific Islands region. Sharing our stories on the Arctic Circle Assembly’s stage over these three years opened many eyes to the sense of togetherness between peoples who have been the custodians of the land, oceans, forests and fishing ground, often for millennia.

The peoples of the Arctic and the Pacific share a common journey, an affinity with our oceans and a history as the world’s greatest voyagers. Let us now seek to forge a shared future. That future will once again allow us to continue our kaitiakitanga (guardianship) over nature, stabilise our communities on their lands, respect all living creatures and utilise traditional knowledge passed down through generations.

Our Vision for Global C02 Deceleration

"We should not be defined by the smallness of our islands but in the greatness of our oceans. We are the sea; we are the ocean…” 'Epeli Hau'ofa

The Pacific matters to us all, for our climate and food security. The Pacific makes up half of the Earth’s Ocean, is home to more marine species than any other ocean basin on the planet and provides 70% of the global fish catch. We understand intimately that the Pacific Ocean is the world’s most important asset in our efforts to regulate the Earth’s climate and help cool global temperatures.

In combination with our nature-based values, we are developing nature-based climate solutions enhanced by Indigenous knowledge and western science. Our modeling shows that with significant investment into a ‘Blue Pacific’ we can slow down the pace of global warming. As the world turns its attention to decelerate the growth of greenhouse gas emissions, Indigenous leadership is needed to facilitate rapid declines in C02 emissions to bring hope back to our region.

At COP27, Māori and Pacific leaders assembled to deliver our blueprint called ‘Hinemoana Halo’ that seeks rapid emission reductions through investment into ocean and nature-based solutions able to make a net positive climate impact that can be scaled globally. Named after the Māori goddess of the ocean, Hinemoana, the initiative promotes the self-determination of IPLC’s to protect, manage, monitor, and restore their coastlines and high seas.

Blue Habitat Restoration and Trophic Rewilding 

Hinemoana Halo represents an exciting Indigenous-led ocean resilience, conservation and biodiversity restoration effort. It will utilize Indigenous knowledge with science to develop high impact ocean-based solutions that protect the life essence (mauri) of our natural world. The project is supported by blue carbon scientist Dr Carlos Duarte and former Assistant Director of the International Monetary Fund, Dr Ralph Chami.

In addition to our focus on the restoration of seagrass, wetlands, mangroves, and coastal forests, Hinemoana Halo will be the first blue carbon and biodiversity initiative with a trophic rewilding strategy to help recover populations of whales and other wildlife, such as sharks, octopus, dolphins, sea lions, manta rays and migrating seabirds.

Drawing on our traditional kinship relationships across the ocean, it will bring together the world’s best innovators to restore the earth’s largest carbon sink, the Pacific Ocean, and bring back the rich abundance of our blue habitats, ecosystems and marine species. One of the primary initiatives being supported by Hinemoana Halo is the creation of the world’s largest Indigenous marine protected area over a 2,200,000 km2 area – a target that is the culmination of facilitated talks that began in 2022.

The area will come under an IPLC-led protection framework that will put more money into whale conservation and introduce seasonal protections across whale migratory routes or ‘blue’ corridors. The C02 carbon storage potential of this project combined with other early stage Hinemoana Halo carbon++ investments will represent the largest ever in the Pacific.

Creating New Zealand and the Pacific’s first IPLC-led Blue Nature Market

By 2030, the Hinemoana Halo verification system will be made available to global Indigenous partners to facilitate verified reductions of hundreds of millions of tons of carbon. This system will enable IPLC-led projects to be issued with both blue carbon and biodiversity credits. It will provide a template for a nature-positive economy and a pathway to finance climate mitigation and adaptation which stabilizes people in their lands and promotes Indigenous-led stewardship of nature for the benefit of all.

In June 2023, five Iwi (Māori tribes) and the House of Ariki of the Cook Islands signed the historic Hinemoana Halo Agreement at the inaugural Hinemoana Halo Ocean Summit in Gisborne, Aotearoa. The Agreement established the 100% Indigenous-owned Hinemoana Halo Ocean Fund (H20 Fund) which will facilitate investment in IPLCs and allow Māori partners to establish Aotearoa and the Pacific’s first Indigenous-led blue nature market.

Conservation International Aotearoa's focus is on convening partners and developing a blended sustainable finance mechanism which will direct finance into blue economy infrastructure, blue carbon and biodiversity restoration projects. The mechanism will bundle carbon, biodiversity, and heritage credits as an inseparable whole into a Hinemoana Halo credit. It will also create a learning community and capacity development facility for Māori-led blue nature solutions and raise a USD100m fund to sustain and deliver Hinemoana Halo in perpetuity.

The current priority remains fundraising and facilitating the mapping of blue carbon in these coastal areas and undertaking abundance estimates of marine species so that Iwi Māori can plan and consult with their members, representing around 200,000 people, to identify potential projects aligned with their environmental, economic, social and community development aspirations.

Nā tō rourou, nā taku rourou, ka ora ai te iwi. With your food basket and my food basket the people will thrive.

The Hinemoana Halo Credit: Carbon + Biodiversity + Heritage

Hinemoana Halo has several unique facets and world-firsts:

  1. Indigenous tribes are leading this effort on their own lands; therefore, problems with ownership and benefit sharing are clarified, documented, and solved up front within their own tribes/communities. This is a shift from being a consulted party, to being the principal decision-making party, setting an example for other Indigenous programs.
  2. The design of the projects and methods for measuring and tracking carbon, biodiversity and heritage benefits reflect both western science and mātauranga Māori (Indigenous knowledge). This approach ensures that those who have the cultural knowledge and methods for protecting and restoring natural habitats and species are designing and stewarding the conservation activities throughout.
  3. The Hinemoana Halo credit has three key and equally important dimensions: carbon, biodiversity and heritage. With multiple measures and holistic approaches, outcomes are not singularly focused on maximizing carbon but on enhancing ecosystem resilience and restoring a sustainable ‘give and take’ principle inherent in Māori culture. Projects focused on resilience over maximizing carbon are proven to lead to better and more sustainable carbon and biodiversity outcomes while also recognizing cultural and heritage values as intrinsic elements to the successful outcomes. From the investor side, ensuring a whole systems approach and incorporating a full set of values contributes to de-risking the natural habitats as an investment while also recognizing the interplay between cultural heritage, nature stewardship and biodiversity as inseparable.
  4. The project also employs a new science-based finance℠ element which brings ex-ante output projection of the ecosystem services as well as the valuation to these services of natural assets, akin to any business or asset being considered as an investible enterprise. This robust financial modelling tool also gives investors confidence bounds and risk disclosures, allowing them to assess their willingness to invest with greater knowledge. Ex-ante projection and valuation over the assets’ 'lifetime' services reveals that living nature is much more valuable than has been recognized by markets to date. By translating the value of nature’s services into language markets understand, a new asset class is being discovered, creating a pathway for significant investment and an opportunity to meaningfully address the sizable conservation financing gap.
  5. Recognizing the teething problems associated with current nascent and voluntary carbon markets, this initiative brings a fresh approach to create radical transparency and trust between buyers and sellers of the Hinemoana Halo credits. The project design, conservation life cycle and results are fully 'discoverable' through blockchain technology – creating transparency for the market and better price discovery than typical bilateral arrangements.

Consider, for example, a new investment that is projected to grow exponentially for 50 years and then continue to grow at a constant rate forever. This is not 'Apple' but the surprising enterprise 'seagrass'. Science has established its growth rate life cycle and sophisticated modeling tools have been developed and applied to model the growth rate, output and value of these services over its lifetime. This allows potential investors to make informed decisions regarding the financial viability of investing in services of the natural assets, including carbon, biodiversity credits, and cultural credits.

Indigenous communities have always recognized the value and spiritual connection with their natural heritage as gifting sustainable life-enhancing services in perpetuity. Now the global community is also starting to recognize the need to protect and restore nature – as a response to climate change and biodiversity loss. This awakening lies at the core of Hinemoana Halo – responding to nature herself and to the realization by the global community of the dependency we all have on nature. Hinemoana Halo is offering solutions and hope. There is a new pulse, a new heartbeat which is now drawing financial resources back to the center of an inseparable human/nature alignment.

Indigenous Climate Leadership and Self Determination

Aotearoa and Pacific Island nations contribute 0.2% of global emissions. While we are on the frontlines of the climate crisis, we are not responsible for it. We need climate finance today.

The intent is to establish a blue carbon regime that redirects a percentage of profits to conserve ocean resources while creating sustainable industries and jobs that promote climate adaptation and reduced emissions.

Be a Good Ancestor - Protect our Legacy for Future Generations

Indigenous peoples of the Pacific enjoy a special relationship with the moana (ocean) and taonga (sacred) species that sustain us all. This relationship is reflected in traditional songs, chants, prayers, and oral histories. Many sacred artforms, spiritual beliefs and practices also embody this deep connection to the gods of the ocean.

Now, more than ever, as the oceans of Hinemoana rise, the people of the Pacific are also rising to save our ocean heritage. We invite the global community to join us as we navigate this journey.

No. 3/2023, 9 October 2023

This article is a part of the Arctic Circle Journal Series which provides insight, understanding and new information. The material represents the opinions of the author but not those of Arctic Circle.

Mere Takoko (Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau a Apanui, Rongowhakaata)

Vice President, Conservation International Aotearoa (NZ)

Mere specialises in climate change and Indigenous tribal development and is the founder of Hinemoana Halo Ocean Initiative. She is currently leading Conservation International’s focus on partnering with Iwi Māori to deliver transformative, Indigenous-led, ocean solutions to create impactful actions for people and nature in Aotearoa, the Cook Islands, Tonga and Tahiti.

A descendant of the Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau a Apanui and Rongowhakaata tribal Nations, Mere has many years’ experience working with Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities on circular economy and environmental initiatives, including clean tech innovations as a former Chief Executive of Divergent Investments. Most recently, Mere served as Pou Whakatere of the New Zealand Climate Change Commission and as a Senior Advisor to the New Zealand Cabinet, the Minister for Māori Development and the Māori Affairs Select Committee.

She is currently a Moana PhD Fellow enrolled at the University of Victoria, Wellington, and is researching the potential of establishing a blue carbon plan to promote climate resilience and sustainable economic development for her tribal area.

Ralph Chami

Co-Founder, Blue Green Future

Ralph has over 30 years of experience as a financial economist, with 22 years at the IMF and currently as Assistant Director at the Institute for Capacity Development. He has operational expertise working with fragile states worldwide and providing training and capacity development on macro-financial economic policy. A broad range of research topics include remittances, fragile states, inclusive growth, banking regulation, and most recently, how to bring the valuation of natural capital to mitigate climate change and the biodiversity crisis.