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Trailblazer paving a way for the future

Climate change activist Maia Ingoe turns 18 next week — finally old enough to vote. But already she has organised marches, petitioned Government and challenged Gisborne District Council around climate change. She spoke to Sophie Rishworth from Vienna, at the Global Development Tour with United Nations Youth NZ.

Maia Ingoe was intermediate age (about 10 or 11) when she become aware there was a problem with the world. She started to watch the weather on television, learn how the process of greenhouse gases worked, and noticed the world getting warmer.

“I've always had a really strong connection to the environment because I grew up in Tairawhiti and by the ocean.”

Climate anxiety — or eco-anxiety — is a real thing among her generation, says Maia, 17.

“I know a lot of people my age who are talking about this and we are all thinking about it.”

Conversations include big stuff like whether or not to have children.

While raising one singular person who could do amazing things for the planet would be a good thing, at the same time why would you want to bring another human into a world so compromised by rising temperatures, says Maia.

“Science tells us we have limited time. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says we have 12 years left, and that was more than a year ago.”

The IPCC have stated that if governments did not act now with policy changes to reduce carbon emissions, then average global temperatures would increase by 4.1°C-4.8°C by the end of the century.

“That would be catastrophic.

“We have to restrict global warming to stay at, or below, 1.5 degrees.

“And we have to be fast on this — the world is not going to wait for us. It is already happening.

“When you see the bushfires in Australia, the flooding in Venice . . .”

“This isn't a one-off event, this is our new normal. These extreme weather events will keep happening and they are so destructive to the planet.”

Maia is well aware of the “strong opinions” of those who disagree with her. During her campaign to collect signatures for the petition to get Gisborne District Council (GDC) to declare a climate emergency — something they voted not to do, for the second time — she had many conversations with people who disagreed with her.

They would tell her these things had happened before in history, to look at the floods of the 1600s, for example.

“People who deny climate change are people who are strong in their beliefs. There has been so much change in the world already that it's hard for them to grasp this is all happening.

“But we have a conscience for a reason. I can't change their opinions but I can tell them the science. But there are some people who won't listen.”

She admits flying around the world on this trip, the Global Development Tour with United Nations Youth NZ, is not ideal “at all”.

“I definitely acknowledge that, and feel guilty about chasing opportunity when it's costing these emissions.

“We have to change that system for people to be able to live fulfilled lives without the constant emissions from heavy travel.”

Maia is strong in her beliefs, and driven to continue her climate crusade by the people she works with.

“Talking and walking with them, and bouncing ideas off of each other, really pushes me.”

To curb the eco-anxiety, Maia chooses to think of a world that can be better.

“I focus on hope rather than fear, because fear isn't sustainable either.”

The daughter of Andrea Haisman and Jared Ingoe, Maia also has a brother called Kelly. Her family is proud of her for standing out, even if their opinions differ sometimes.

Maia finished her education in Gisborne last year and begins her degree at Victoria University soon, to study a Bachelor of Science — double-majoring in Environmental and Development Studies.

“I'd like to work in the environmental and climate change space.”

Her biggest message to everyone is, “we all have to aim high in the policies created in each country”.

“We can't afford to just do well in one area. We have got to work as a whole over the massive changes we need to make a difference.”

The changes mean a better education, life and well-being for everyone on the planet.

“These changes should be happening whether they would impact climate change or not,” she says.

In a bid to make sure she is walking the walk, as well as talking the talk, Maia became a vegetarian last year and wants to transition to being vegan this year — which is a plant-based diet.

She will celebrate her 18th birthday mid-air, in transit between San Francisco and New Zealand.

■ Maia is one of four Gisborne students alongside Lucy Coulston, Liam Williams and Adam Whibley who have gone on the Global Development Tour with United Nations (UN) Youth NZ.

They are four of only 22 New Zealand students invited to the tour, that's known as one of the most prestigious youth tours in the world.

Speaking from the hostel lobby during their stop in Vienna, Austria, Maia said the trip had been packed with thought-provoking meetings.

Highlights so far included visiting the NZ High Commission in New York, as well as the NZ embassy and Chatham House in London.

Organised by the UN Youth New Zealand initiative, the month-long tour introduces students to Europe — specifically London, Paris, Berlin, Rome and Vienna — along with New York City.

The trip began at the 2020 Columbia Model United Nations Conference and Exposition, held every year in New York with 800 students from all over the world.

The tour educated students about 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, goals that include zero hunger, gender equality, climate action and sustainable countries.

CHANGE MAKER: 'We need to aim high,' says Maia Ingoe. Being an activist is not for the faint-hearted but Maia bases herself in a hope the world can be a better place, because 'fear is not sustainable either'. Maia is pictured left after winning first place in an international writing competition, and below speaking at the Moananui Symposium. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell
Maia Ingoe. Picture by Vita Anderson