New Zealand has launched a plan to prepare for the inevitable impacts of climate change: 5 areas where the hard work begins now

New Zealand’s first climate adaptation plan, launched by his week, provides a strong foundation for urgent action nationwide.

Its goals are quite compelling: reducing vulnerability, building resilience, and promoting resilience.

Recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have emphasized the need for effective and transformative efforts to rapidly reduce emissions while adapting and preparing for the inevitable impacts of climate change.

But this national adaptation plan is only the beginning. The hard work is yet to come in its execution. Unfortunately, the proposed new law that would provide the institutional architecture for climate adaptation has been delayed until the end of next year.

Based on my experience as an author for the IPCC and working with communities around Aotearoa New Zealand and beyond, there are five key areas that need greater focus as we begin to translate the intent of the plan into action.

Climate change amplifies the impact of storms.
Guo Lei / Xinhua via Getty Images

Reduce risks to people on the ‘front lines’ of impacts

First, climate change will affect every aspect of life. These impacts are often the result of extreme weather events that are already becoming more frequent and intense.

The people most affected are always those who are most vulnerable. We need to pay more focused attention to the root causes and drivers of vulnerability – and actions taken to reduce vulnerability and, ultimately, climate risks.



Read more: IPCC Report: Coastal Cities are Guardians of Climate Change. It’s where our focus should be as we prepare for the inevitable effects


This means addressing poverty, marginalization, inequality and other structural causes of vulnerability. Historically, much risk-based work has focused on calculations based on a formula that considers risk as a product of risk and vulnerability. This approach is very technical.

We need to focus on reducing social vulnerability to the effects of climate change, especially for those on the “front line” of exposure to climate impacts, such as coastal communities facing sea-level rise. Each region and locality must be able to identify and prioritize the most vulnerable and catalyze proactive actions to reduce this vulnerability.

Climate Resistant Future

Second, the plan clearly recognizes the vital role of all governance actors in its implementation. However, in practice, the local government will have an especially great responsibility in translating this plan into action.

There does not seem to be enough attention focused on how to build the adaptive capacity of local government in this first phase of implementation. Local government will be the fulcrum to enable – or impede – adaptation at the local level.

Building transformative capacity, from the political to the operational level of local government, is essential and must happen in partnership with tangata whenua, central government, the private sector (which is not given much attention in this plan) and civil society.

Third, introducing the concept of climate-resilient development is a welcome framework. This is an emerging concept, highlighted in a chapter of the IPCC’s report on adaptation. Climate-resilient development recognizes the inherent overlap between mitigation and adaptation efforts to advance sustainable development.

The plan limits the concept to climate-resistant “property development”. There is work to be done to deepen and broaden this framework along the lines of the IPCC.

Who should pay if people have to move?

Fourth, the managed retreat looms large with many New Zealanders living along the rivers and shoreline. We can only enable a proactive rollback of imminent danger if the government decides who should pay.

Nowadays, the impetus for a downturn is usually an extreme event, often at great cost to those affected. In many cases, those affected cannot back down without government support. They are often in locations approved by the governing authorities.

Who should contribute to risk-reducing measures and roll back risks exacerbated by climate change? What proportion of the costs should be borne by those exposed or affected, and what percentage should the local and central government contribute? Who calls for organized seclusion and should it be voluntary or compulsory?

The question of “who pays” is a tough call. The plan does not provide an answer but we cannot avoid it if it is to be implemented.



Read more: When climate change and other emergencies threaten where we live, how will we manage our decline?


Fifth, it is inevitable that there will be “winners” and “losers” in the ongoing struggle to adapt to a changing climate. Values ​​and interests will conflict and the dispute will escalate with the intensification and recurrence of climatic impacts.

We will need to find more constructive ways to resolve the conflicts exacerbated by climate change. Sometimes the government will only be one of several stakeholders and will not be in a position to enable or direct the resolution of the conflict. For this, we will have to develop processes and institutional capacities to facilitate independent mediated negotiation solutions to escalate climate conflicts.

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