Help Is Coming for Councils Grappling with Climate Change Adaptation

working group report May 2018

Thames Coromandel District Council has budgeted $2.6 million for coastal hazard identification and mapping over the next three years.  But Mayor Sandra Goudie has called for more assistance and funding from central government to tackle these issues. That’s a fair call because up until now local councils have been left to grapple with these complex and expensive issues on their own. Recommendations in a major new report on climate change adaptation suggest that local councils will soon get the help they need.

The report from the Climate Change Adaptation Working Group contains 21 major recommendations to the Government. Many of those recommendations set out a plan for greater assistance and funding for local government, and much greater cooperation and partnership between central and local government.  The plan has been warmly welcomed by Local Government New Zealand.

This blog concentrates on how the Working Group’s Plan will assist local authorities.

  1. Guiding principles

“Approach adaptation action with flexibility and enable local circumstances to be reflected.”

  1. Two Major Core Actions Will Greatly Assist Local Councils

‒ a regularly updated national adaptation action plan

This plan will define what needs to be done firstcore actions

who does what, and will be informed by the national climate change risk assessment

‒ a regularly updated national climate change risk assessment to prioritise actions – This will enable the national adaptation action plan to prioritise areas and communities which are the most exposed and vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. 

A Whole of New Zealand Approach

“We concluded that every New Zealander has a role to play in adapting to climate change. We believe it is essential that a whole of New Zealand approach be taken where:

  • central government makes policy decisions on national issues, provides the policy framework, supporting information and the statutory means for implementing policy, as well as some of the operational delivery
  • local government integrates the effects of climate change into its decisions such as, land-use planning, water resource management, service delivery for the three waters, flood risk management, biodiversity and biosecurity responsibilities, roading, and emergency management”

We recommend the national adaptation plan be a single document, developed by central government in collaboration with local government, iwi/hapu, the private sector, and the New Zealand public. Although we recommend this be undertaken at a national, economy -wide level, it does not preclude the development of supporting plans for regions, communities, or by the private sector.”

A national methodology and framework for assessing climate change risks and vulnerabilities and develop nationally-consistent datasets

Local Councils will also be assisted by a national methodology and framework for assessing climate change risks and vulnerabilities and nationally-consistent datasets

This allows risks and vulnerabilities to be prioritised so the most vulnerable communities, exposed areas, can be identified.  Local government, researchers and the private sector have called for nationally -consistent land elevation data to support planning; for example, for ongoing sea-level rise assessments.

“Although we recommend this be undertaken at a national, economy-wide level, it does not preclude the development of climate change risks assessments for regions, communities, sectors or by the private sector, where appropriate.”

 Review existing legislation and policy to integrate and align climate change adaptation considerations

“Land- use planning frameworks are not currently effective in reducing risks from the effects of climate change. This is due to:

  • lack of a clear legal mandate for councils to plan for and take action under the RMA to reduce climate related risk
  • competing objectives across legislation and policies related to climate change adaptation, and with resilience and disaster risk reduction
  • the inadequacy of assessment and planning tools being used under the RMA to account for changing risk and uncertainties when planning now for long timeframes”

The following legislative changes are recommended: –

  • Amend the Local Government Act 2002 to specify climate change adaptation as a function of local government and in doing so give a clearer mandate.

“Doing this will ensure the dependency between land- use planning and infrastructure provisions is linked. It will also help integrate adaptation into the delivery of all local government functions; for example, the provision of housing, infrastructure, land- use and transport planning; resource management (air, water, land, marine); building and construction; biosecurity; biodiversity; and emergency management; and alignment with rating powers.”

  • Remove current legal barriers to implementing adaptation. This includes providing guidance on the new tests in RMA section 106 (‘significant risks’ and ‘likelihood’ of natural hazards for which there is no jurisprudence).
  • Update the Local Government Act 2002 from its current timeframe of 10 years for long term plans and 30 years for infrastructure strategies.

“We recommend a 100- year planning timeframe, to allow decisions to include long -term climate change impacts while taking action now. Doing this will also mean consistency with the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement for coastal hazard risk management and infrastructure lifespan”

  • Building Code

We consider the 1- in- 50 -year flood protection standard prescribed in the Building Code is too low for addressing climate change impacts because it is inconsistent with current flood management design practice (typically the 100 -year flood) and does not provide for any increase in flood hazard risk with time”

Establish a centralised service to provide expertise to local government

“We recommend a centralised service where experts provide advice to local government on climate change risk and the actions needed to manage it. This action will support local government to plan, make decisions, and discuss with iwi/hapū and the wider community the options to act under a range of climate change scenarios.”

The implementation of effective adaptation is however highly technical, socially interactive, and often expensive. It will require innovative approaches to community engagement. At present, not all local authorities have the resources, skills or experience to execute their role in climate adaptation effectively. Support, based on consistent information and assessment methodologies and decision tools, is therefore needed. We recommend this service supply expertise to local government when needed and develop peer- to- peer support across councils.

Adequate funding for adaptation

Adequate funding for adaptation will mean New Zealand is able to deliver effective adaptation and take dynamic action. Furthermore, risk-based insurance is likely to become increasingly expensive and/or harder to obtain in high -risk locations, placing pressure on public agencies to fill the gap, which has the potential to create inequities if the gap is not filled.

Current funding arrangements are generally applied after the event and in an ad hoc manner. Hard choices will have to be made about land use in low- lying areas as sea and groundwater levels rise, and the intensity and frequency of rainfall events and droughts, increase. To avoid the worst disruption, planned investment in risk reduction measures will be required. These are likely to be beyond the financial capacity of local government and its ratepayers alone. Access to adequate and sustained funding is therefore essential.

Define funding arrangements for climate change adaptation

“We recommend investigating who should bear the costs of climate change adaptation and how it can be funded. We recommend that a specialist group of practitioners and experts undertake this action. These should be drawn from central and local government, iwi/hapū, sectors such as banking, insurance, and infrastructure; and have expertise in climate change, planning and law, public finance, capital markets, infrastructure financing, and risk management. The group should be serviced by a secretariat with officials across relevant public sector and local government agencies and include significant public engagement.”

Include adaptation funding in the Government’s commitment to hold a public inquiry into the drivers of local government costs and its revenue base

Include adaptation funding in the Government’s commitment to hold a public inquiry into the drivers of local government costs and its revenue base.

“We recommend that climate change adaptation be included as a part of local government costs. This will highlight the significant level of investment that needs to occur to reduce risk and the level of damages, in particular, for physical assets and infrastructure future -proofing, potential managed retreat and, in some cases, protection structures. In addition, the findings of this inquiry could be used to help identify how adaptation funding could be incorporated into future local government budgets.”

Reaction to the Plan

NZ Herald 



Maori TV  (the Plan has the support of the National Party)

One thought on “Help Is Coming for Councils Grappling with Climate Change Adaptation

  1. Hi its Shannon Duncan here….i was wanting to know if you had seen the movie BEFORE THE FLOOD by Leonardo Dicaprio and National Geographic….this can be seen on Netflix….an important movie to be seen….thanks


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