Judy Lawrence – Climate Change Adaptation. We Are Not Ready

Judy Lawrence is one of the foremost experts and advisers to the Government on climate change adaptation.  She has written a wonderful opinion piece for Spinoff. I’m going to quote from her article at some length because she takes up many of the themes I have been writing about – just more succinctly and expertly.  You can read the full version here

“Coastal properties on low lying roads are experiencing increasing flooding in estuary margins in the Bay of Plenty and Coromandel. These events will become more intense. As the seas keep rising, flooding will be permanent in some areas and start to occur on sunny days too.”

Davy St sunny day flooding 26 Nov 2018 3.9 m tide
Davy Street Thames

“How many more of these “events” do we need before we get organised to deal with the changing climate risk profile that confronts us as a nation? Will it take many in rapid succession to shake us out of our false sense of security that government will pick up the pieces? Or, knowing the consequences, can we start acting now to avoid the worst of the inevitable damage and losses to come?”

“As insurance companies increase premiums to cover the unknown but increasing risks, they are withdrawing from what are now foreseeable climate-related risks – those that we are already experiencing. We cannot rely on the government to fill the gap, especially as the EQC fund is under extreme pressure from earthquake claims.”

“The upshot: councils are becoming the ‘insurer’ of last resort through their planning instruments that control where we live. But are councils even able to exercise their mandate to avoid and reduce risk in exposed areas?”  [Actually no]

stuff drone

“Our future climate will be not be like the past, nor even like the last few summers. It will get worse, affecting all levels of society. The climate change impacts to come will dwarf the events we are witnessing already in New Zealand.  We are simply not properly prepared for the climate change impacts that are emerging, nor do we have the funding base organised to sustain the responses to it.”

“This means that our typical protective ‘hold the line’, ‘emergency’ and ‘build back better’ responses will not pass muster. In some cases we will have to build somewhere else than at the coast and we need new options so we can transition to more sustainable places.  We are simply not properly prepared for the climate change impacts that are emerging, nor do we have the funding base organised to sustain the responses to it.”

adaptation slide“First we need leadership in the form of a National Adaptation Plan for climate change, based on a national risk assessment. Leadership at all levels of government and the community will be necessary to make the plan effective, supported by good information and a clear sense of what can and should be funded.”


“There will be equity considerations as well. For example, hard defences against the sea will have limited effectiveness as the seas rise. Seawalls raise tide levels in enclosed areas, take sediment away that can provide a temporary buffer and reduce community amenity. Worst of all, they ultimately fail to do the job.”

“Instead of such short-term solutions, we need to rethink where development is located and the underground and above-ground utilities that service our lives. They will be the first to fail, long before the big scary sea-level rises.”

“Councils across the country are still consenting in climate exposed locations. They regularly have to consider the replacement of infrastructure assets that will be in the ground for at least 100 years. So we need to get this right and not create a harmful legacy for future generations to fix.”

“None of this will change until regional and district plans are changed in accordance with councils’ existing legal mandates to avoid and reduce climate risk. The plans need to change quickly – and councils must bring their communities along with them.”

“We need to take our blinkers off and get on with the job.”

Let’s fix the legal constraints that hobble local government and create an ongoing legacy of exposure. Let’s get effective and equitable funding mechanisms designed and in place without creating moral hazard. Let’s get communities and councils working together to plan the transition to a changing climate future. It can be done.”

Judy Lawrence was co-chair of the Climate Change Adaptation Technical Working group that reported to government in December 2017 and May 2018 with a stocktake of adaptation action and recommendations on adapting to climate change.