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New Zealand has its first National Adaptation Plan

New Zealand has its first National Adaptation Plan

New Zealand has its first National Adaptation Plan

Tuesday 23 August, 2022

The Government has adopted a two-pronged response to climate change: ‘mitigation’ (i.e., reducing emissions) and ‘adaptation’ (learning to adapt to climate induced environmental change). The Climate Change Response Act 2002, as amended by the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019 (“the Zero Carbon Act”) requires the Minister for Climate Change to produce both an Emissions Reduction Plan and a National Adaptation Plan (NAP) to address these two streams. Both documents have now been finalised and the work towards implementing them has commenced.

The NAP responds to the 43 priority risks identified in the National Climate Change Risk Assessment (NCCRA). The NCCRA is a national overview of how New Zealand may be affected by climate change related hazards and identifies the most significant risks and opportunities. The 43 priority risks are spread over five spheres: human, natural environment, economy, built environment, and governance. 

Given this is the first comprehensive Government policy on adaption, it is unsurprising that the NAP focuses on getting a solid foundation in place for the future and does not yet address the trickier questions about who will pay for adaptation.  The NAP is focused on improving access to and storage of information on natural hazards and establishing frameworks and new legislation to respond to that information.

The NAP has four priorities for the next six years:

  1. Enable better risk-informed decision making – assessing current and future climate risk to allow individuals, communities, local government, and business to make good decisions. 
  2. Driving climate resilient development in the right locations – making sure buildings, infrastructure, and communities are resilient to the impacts of climate change.
  3. Assessing ways to adapt to climate change, including managed retreat: considering a range of options for those communities, infrastructure, and business already under threat from climate related natural hazards.
  4. Embedding climate resilience across all of Government’s strategies and policies.

What does the NAP mean for local government?

Local government is on the front line in managing climate effects and risks.  Councils have functions and duties in relation to natural hazards, civil defence and emergency management, and improving community resilience.  Some local authorities are already taking steps to plan for adaptation, including a joint initiative between Dunedin City Council and Otago Regional Council.  ‘South Dunedin Future’ aims to develop adaptation options for South Dunedin in the face of high flooding risk, recognising a need to act now to avoid the worst of the impacts.  Whakatane District Council together with the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, and Gisborne District Council, have already had to use existing tools to protect human life at Matatā and Wainui respectively.

Land use planning

As the principal agents for land use planning, local authorities have a critical role in helping their communities adapt to climate change.  The actions in the NAP will provide local government with the necessary information to make informed decisions, with central government promising to establish information portals (Actions 3.1, 3.2) and delivering a rolling programme of targeted adaptation guidance (Action 3.7). 

Previous legislative amendments mean that from 30 November 2022 all councils will be required to have regard to the NAP and the Emissions Reduction Plan when preparing regional policy statements, regional plans, or district plans (or changes to these documents). 

Planning frameworks

The NAP identifies three new legislative frameworks to support adaptation and encourage future development to take account of future climate risks:

  • the development of new legislation (the replacement of the RMA with the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBEA);
  • the Spatial Planning Act) (Action 4.1); and
  • the yet to be developed Climate Adaptation Act (Action 5.1). 

The objectives of these new legislative frameworks are well known but there is currently little detail on how local government will implement them.  Central government guidance on the newly formed National Planning Framework is not expected until 2023 at the earliest, after enactment of the NBEA (Action 4.2).  In the meantime, the NAP recognises that guidance on how to respond to climate change outside coastal areas has yet to be developed.  In our view, the guidance that exists for the coastal environment (the Coastal Policy Statement and guidance on sea-level rise projections) does not necessarily provide local government with the tools to address climate change related natural hazards for development that already exists in coastal areas.

Council owned infrastructure

The most significant risk identified in the NCCRA is the risk to potable water supplies due to changes in rainfall, temperature, drought, extreme weather events, and ongoing sea-level rise. Action 4.5 is to reform the institutional arrangements for water services, thereby moving water supply risk from local government to the new water entities. At this stage ‘the Government is considering how the proposed new entities will manage climate risk’ (Action 4.5).

Aside from passing legislation to support managed retreat (Action 5.1) and review the purpose of local government (The Future for Local Government review Action 5.2), the NAP provides little guidance on how local government should go about protecting and upgrading its own infrastructure that may be suspectable to climate change related hazards, or how this should be funded.  With (potentially significant) change coming to the structure and role of local government as a result of the Review, it is understandable that existing councils may be hesitant to start planning and funding adaptation strategies.

The NAP does specifically address climate risks to landfills and contaminated sites, with Action 5.11 encouraging councils to evaluate the risks, and Action 5.12 exploring funding options to investigate and remediate those sites vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

LIMs and updated natural hazard information

Ratepayers are likely to be affected by the NAP requirement to improve natural hazard disclosure on   Land Information Memoranda (Action 3.6).  This requires amendments to the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act 1987 (LGOIMA), anticipated to be made by the end of 2023. In screening hazards and risks in coastal areas, the NAP supports local government using a significant global temperature rise scenario (4.7 degrees). For detailed hazard and risk assessments, local government will use both the middle-of-the-road scenario and the extreme scenario.  

Concerns have been raised about ‘over-adaptation’ and that use of the extreme temperature rise scenario is unrealistic and overly conservative, potentially leading to large ‘red zones’ around the coast and the inclusion of too many hazards on LIMs. Coastal councils could face significant push back from affected ratepayers.  The Ministry, however, has said that it is prudent in the face of an uncertain future to plan using multiple scenarios.

Information is only part of the equation. Councils and communities will need take the results of hazard mapping and make informed decisions about land use development and potentially the need for managed retreat.  The inclusion of hazard disclosure requirements in LGOIMA will, however, provide clarity and certainty to councils about the type of information that needs to be included in a LIM.

The outstanding questions

Many of the actions proposed in the NAP are already underway for other primary reasons (RMA reform, 3 waters reform, local government review), raising the question whether more urgent action is needed to adapt to climate change-related hazards.  For some councils the answer is a resounding, yes, in the face of continued adverse weather events, resulting in flooding and inundation and related economic and social costs.  The evidence is that these weather events will continue to increase in severity and frequency.

When it comes to implementation, the NAP does not address the critical questions on who pays for adaptation and how the actions are to be resourced.  The Government appears to be waiting for the outcome of the Future for Local Government review before making those decisions. Unfortunately, this lack of clarity on responsibility is likely to hinder local government in its adaption planning.

If you are interested in what you can do now to prepare for climate related adaptation, or you would like to know what it means to have regard to the NAP in plan making, please contact one of our team.

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