Blueprint to adapt to a warmer world – Expert Reaction

The government’s first formal plan for adapting to climate change – including effects like floods, fire, drought and sea-level rise – is now out for public feedback. 

This first step brings together what’s being done already and what could be done in future, proposing crucial actions for the next six years. Reforming resource management, bringing in laws to support managed retreat, and updating how we handle emergencies, are among the top priorities.

The SMC asked experts to comment on the plan.

Professor Bronwyn Hayward, Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of Canterbury, comments:

“I am reading the New Zealand draft National Plan on Climate Adaptation here in Dublin, Ireland, where a small group of authors from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are working to draft statements about the overall findings of climate science for the last six years. Once New Zealand adopts its national climate plan we will join 170 other countries and major cities that have adaptation plans, and we will then share a global challenge: putting these plans into action in an increasingly dangerous climate.

“A key focus of the 2022 IPCC Working Group 2 report, Impacts Adaptation and Vulnerability, has been to highlight the importance of “climate-resilient development”; that is, development which integrates our actions to adapt to climate (or protect communities and adjust our behaviours) and actions to reduce our overall emissions (mitigation) in ways that promote sustainable development for all. So it’s encouraging that in this draft plan there is growing recognition of the importance of integrating all actions. Best adaptation planning practice also tells us decision-making is most effective when it is inclusive, transparent, and focused on protecting the most vulnerable first. And so it is also encouraging that the principle of protecting vulnerable people is front and centre of the draft discussion plan.

“While climate change can be an overwhelming issue, we now have the experience of how we tackled COVID-19, to learn from. COVID taught us the importance of working with communities from the start. This climate plan sets out a specific process for planning by and with Māori, and also notes the importance of planning for action with rural communities, disabled and the elderly, children, and Pacific neighbours.

“The plan also shows the enormity of the task facing the government after years of inaction – we now need to implement climate planning guidelines across a raft of new legislation, and we need to think carefully about how people are exposed to repeated flooding effects (and I’d add fires) in the future. If home owners, businesses, schools, ports or airports have to move away from a high-risk area for example, who pays?

“New Zealand signed the Paris Agreement in 2015 and is expected to report progress about our adaptation and mitigation efforts in 2025 in a “global stocktake”, so it’s not clear why our next step on adaptation efforts begins a year later in 2026. We also need to think about how adequately the Climate Commission is resourced to guide the assessment of our progress in adapting to climate change, and ask why the government’s Strategic Assets legislation isn’t mentioned in the list of legislation that has to be carefully integrated into climate planning – or why rural water security is separated from wider water planning efforts.

“But these questions are just some of the detail we can and should be discussing around the country –what is important is we have finally started a national approach to planning for climate risks. The recent horrendous floods in Durban, South Africa, which devastated an entire city, have sparked calls for criminal charges to be laid against leaders in government and the private sector who failed to plan to protect customers and citizens. This is a stark reminder that planning for climate change isn’t a long-term concern any more, it has become an urgent priority for all of us: governments, businesses and every community.”

No conflict of interest.

Professor Anita Wreford, AERU, Lincoln University, and Impacts and Implications Programme Lead, Deep South National Science Challenge, comments:

“This first National Adaptation Plan (NAP) is highly overdue in terms of providing strategic direction for adapting to climate change in Aotearoa New Zealand. The plan provides some very high-level goals (to reduce vulnerability to the impacts of climate change; to enhance adaptive capacity and consider climate change in decisions at all levels; and to strengthen resilience to climate change). While these are essentially variations on the same goal, they are undoubtedly essential for living with climate change.

“The three focus areas in the plan (reform institutions to be fit for a changing climate; provide data, tools and guidance to assess and reduce risks; and embed resilience across government strategies and policies) are critical to achieving effective adaptation and it is encouraging to see that the NAP has adopted some of the messages from the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, particularly around policy integration and governance.

“The third focus area – of embedding resilience across government strategies and policies – is essential, however it is still unclear how this will be achieved, particularly when the current RMA reform plans to separate out climate change adaptation from strategic planning. The NAP acknowledges the need to consider co-benefits of adaptation actions, which are essential not only to avoid unintended consequences, but also to minimise the costs, maximise the benefits and reduce the burden on groups who are facing multiple regulatory pressures (e.g the rural sector). Policy integration will help to achieve this.

“The second focus area – on providing data, information, tools and guidance to assess and reduce risk – is also fundamental, and the plan does place emphasis on developing capability to make adaptation decisions, through improving the consolidation of existing knowledge and training decision-makers. The plan also emphasises the role of science and research in supporting adaptation. It is not clear, however, how much new funding will be directed in this area, as much of the current adaptation funding (for example through the National Science Challenges, particularly Deep South), will finish in 2024.

“The plan identifies goals in six outcome areas with critical actions to achieve these. I suspect groups waiting in anticipation for this NAP may have hoped for more concrete direction in implementing adaptation to achieve these goals. Principles for implementing adaptation are identified briefly but these are areas that will require much more guidance for decision-makers.

“The plan does represent an improvement from New Zealand’s current approach to hazards, which has been very reactive and focused on recovery after an event. The NAP emphasises proactive action, anticipating changes and consideration of the long term. It also recognises the importance of flexibility and revisiting and adjusting actions over time as more information becomes available, which is critical. It will be important that participatory processes are properly carried out to ensure all groups are included and communities are on-board. I will leave Māori adaptation experts to provide their perspectives on the integration of Te Tiriti principles into the NAP.

“The plan rightly emphasises that central government cannot bear all the risks and costs of climate change, and the document outlines the different groups that also need to lead adaptation. What is lacking is a clear identification of how the Government will manage potential unintended consequences of private sector adaptation and conflicts between groups. I would have liked to have seen more direction on this and a clear identification of the role for Central Government alongside other groups.

“Overall, despite some of the gaps and concerns, this NAP may enable New Zealand to make significant developments in planning for and implementing adaptation to climate change.”

No conflict of interest declared.