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Wairarapa’s transformative climate change activist

Wairarapa’s Lisa McLaren, still only in her mid-thirties, has already been awarded the QSM and named a Distinguished Alumni by Victoria University of Wellington for her climate change advocacy work.

Now senior policy advisor for climate change and environment at Masterton District Council, McLaren had been interested in the natural world from a young age.

“It stemmed from growing up on a farm, a great outdoor education experience at Gladstone School, and interesting geography teachers at Wairarapa College,” McLaren said.

“This interest bloomed into bachelors and master’s degrees at Victoria University in environmental studies, and from there into a career in emergency management and climate change social science and activism.”

McLaren was a very reluctant activist.

“I was a shy person who never dreamed I’d be giving speeches in front of Parliament one day. But I had a strong sense of justice and climate change is an issue with justice at the centre,” she said.

“Climate change will hit indigenous, disabled, and other marginalised communities first and worst.

“I felt a responsibility to be part of the solution, but like many people, I didn’t know how to go about it.

“I started with individual-level actions – reducing my own carbon footprint. It’s important, but individual actions can only take us so far.”

Lisa McLaren, Injy Johnstone, Christina Hyman
Lisa McLaren and Injy Johnstone donated climate change books to Christina Hyman at Carterton Library.

McLaren’s activism really began after she attended the UN climate conference in Warsaw in 2013 as a youth delegate.

“What I witnessed there was power and corruption and not climate action,” she said.

“A few years later I went on to co-lead the NZ Youth Delegation to the Paris conference in 2015.

“It was a relief to finally have a locked-in global agreement, but I knew the international process alone wasn’t enough, so I came back to Aotearoa New Zealand inspired to get involved in local action.”

McLaren was best known for her work in bringing the Zero Carbon Act to fruition.

“I took on the volunteer role of the National Convener of the Zero Carbon Act campaign a few months later.

“The Zero Carbon Act was a cross-party climate law that our youth climate group, Generation Zero, designed and campaigned for,” she said.

“It was eventually adopted by Parliament in 2019, setting a pathway for climate action here for the next 30 years and designing a Climate Change Commission to oversee that process.”

No longer on the front lines, McLaren now mentored current youth climate change activists and was completing her PhD – disrupted by covid – about how people engaged with citizen-led science.

She was enthusiastic about working at the local level.

“I believe an essential part of solving climate change is transformation at the community level,” she said.

“This isn’t about going back to the past, but is about transforming the future of our communities so we create a new version of a low carbon, connected, and supported community.”

McLaren wanted to use her new role in local government to help guide the Masterton district through the necessary climate transition, which people often found complex and confusing.

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