You won’t read a better summation of our collective failure to face up to the risks of climate change and the urgent need for transformational change than this superb opinion piece from Judy Lawrence – Senior Research Fellow at the Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria University. Judy Lawrence excoriates local councils and agencies (such as the Thames-Coromandel District Council) for “wilful blindness” and “by continuing to issue planning and building consents in low-lying areas exposed to ongoing sea-level rise that is causing coastal inundation and rising groundwater”. Sound familiar?
I have highlighted some extracts, but I urge you to read the whole article.
“We have a culture of reacting to climate ‘events’ when they happen and treating climate change impacts as though we can somehow stop them by ‘defending’ ourselves from nature’s ongoing changes. This approach is tantamount to policy failure.
Our history as a nation is littered with examples where we fail to act soon enough
These policy failures were a combination of national and local government failing to join the dots between functions and lack of proactive attention to the risks. And some councils around New Zealand are still doing this by continuing to issue planning and building consents in low-lying areas exposed to ongoing sea-level rise that is causing coastal inundation and rising groundwater.
To not adapt, is not an option. Failing to act on climate change runs the risk of litigation that is becoming more common globally.
The prevalent ‘wait and see’ culture and wilful blindness is diverting attention toward cleaning up the mess after the disaster and rebuilding in the same location, rather than somewhere else, or planning a staged and orderly exit from harm – managed retreat.
While helping in the short-term, such interventions will likely prove fruitless for accelerating risk (like sea-level rise impacts) where policy cannot respond quickly enough to avoid such legacy effects.
Increasing exposure to climate risks around the country will eventually become too expensive for most councils and their ratepayers to bear by adopted an incremental approach. Without foresight and precaution about climate change impacts (even if we get to zero carbon emissions), we end up with large inequitable outcomes across our communities and across generations with massive risk transfers to others and to the state – that is all taxpayers.
We need to put the brakes on further developments in exposed areas, like at the coast and rethink how we use our land and water and shift to more sustainable uses.
There are two other categories of impacts that few perceive as risks – compounding impacts like sea-level rise and its interaction with groundwater, storms at the coast, and river mouths, and cascading impacts that propagate across sectors, and cultural, social and economic domains and into the finance sector. These combo effects will catch up on us before too long, so we had better be prepared.”