Councils facing a rising threat to billions of dollars of property from climate change say a new Government risk assessment is a "good first step".
The Government today released the framework for its upcoming National Climate Change Risk Assessment (NCCRA), setting out what it would look like, how it would be carried out, and how guidance from it might be used.
The framework was developed by a panel of experts led by the University of Auckland's Dr Anne Bardsley, while the assessment itself, to be published mid next year, is being worked on by Ministry for the Environment officials.
The first assessment would look at risks on a national scale, along with regional ones – ranging from new sub-tropical pest incursions in Northland to receding snowlines in the South Island - that would prove large enough to influence national priorities and budget processes.
It would further take into account how New Zealand would be broadly affected by what was happening in the rest of the world – whether through economic market signals from global reductions in greenhouse gases, or climate-driven migration.
But the first assessment wouldn't look at the risks from moving to a low-carbon economy, or any socio-economic projections around how households might be affected.
"We are already experiencing the effects of a changing climate such as coastal inundation and increasingly frequent and severe droughts, floods, fires and storms," Climate Change Minister James Shaw said.
"This framework is an acknowledgement that we must start adapting."
Councils lobby Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) – which has calculated that as much as $14b of ratepayer-owned infrastructure is at risk of rising seas – has long argued that adaptation policy must be put on an equal footing with mitigation policy.
"Today's announcement is an acknowledgement that the effects of climate change on New Zealand are already baked in for at least the next century in the form of more severe storm events, unpredictable weather patterns, and rising sea levels," its president, Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, said.
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"That's why it is vital that we as a country act now to put the right regulatory rules and systems in place ahead of time, so that our communities can be more resilient in the face of these challenges.
"Today's announcement is a welcome first step towards putting these regulations in place."
But to be truly effective, the group argued that the assessment needed to take a bottom-up approach.
"We know from places like South Dunedin, Tangoio and the Kaipara Flats, that the impacts of climate change related hazards and risk factors are place specific in nature, even if the root of the problem is the same," Cull said.
"A national picture snapshot of climate change related risks, which the framework will enable, is nice to have, but to be truly useful the focus needs to be much more granular."
It also needed to simplified if it was to be useful to councils grappling with complex issues like managed retreat.
"If it requires the resources of a city to complete, then many smaller councils will find it challenging if not impossible to resource the work needed and meaningfully play their part in New Zealand's response to the effects of climate change."
The director of Victoria University's NZ Climate Change Research Institute, Professor Dave Frame, said that, for too long, adaptation had been left to local scales when there had been a clear need for more leadership from central government.
"The new approach will provide that more coherent guidance, and seems to fit well with other initiatives elsewhere in government, such as the Treasury's Living Standards Framework," Frame said.
"A common strength of these is their focus on well-being and resources considered broadly, not just through a narrow financial lens. The breadth and flexibility of the new initiative are clear strengths."