There has been a lot of talk about climate change this holiday season, and with good reason. Many will recall the images of severe flooding in the Coromandel, damaged roads, disrupted communities and displaced tourists.

"Medium-scale adverse events", or droughts in farmer's terms, have occurred twice already this year, in the west and now the south. And there is no shortage of reports about the record heat. "Heat wave" has entered the news and its effects on our wellbeing.

Last year was odd being the fifth warmest year on record, with the pairing of both high rainfall and severe drought. Why are we reacting to these as they happen? We have known about the possibility of them for decades. What can be done to shift our actions from reactive to more planned adaptation?

Well, change is starting to happen. Take coastal hazards and sea level rise, for example, the impact of which is already being felt.


Councils, iwi and communities such as Hawke's Bay and Dunedin have started community-based projects to discuss what can be done. But they will not be able to cope alone.

The Government's climate change adaptation technical working group has undertaken a stocktake of current adaptation to identify where the gaps are in our information, organisations and tools we have to address what will be ongoing challenges.

Those challenges will be at the coast, on flood plains, in our native forests and ecosystems, on farms, in urban areas and the transport, water and other infrastructure services. .

We need to be better prepared for more severe weather events, rising sea levels and ground-water levels, and the effects of higher temperatures on natural and human systems. And we need to act now.

The recently released revised Ministry for the Environment "coastal hazard and climate change guidance" sets out a 10-step decision process and tools to assist councils and communities assess what is happening, what matters most, and what can be done about it.

Collaborative effort is required and there is progress to report. The Clifton to Tangoio coastal hazards strategy process has been under way since January last year. The council, iwi, affected and wider communities supported by the Living Edge (resilience science challenge) researchers, have coming together to find a way through the ongoing coastal change.

Adaptive tools like those set out in the coastal guidance have helped. This heralds a new planned approach by thinking out "at least 100 years", the timeframe required by the New Zealand coastal policy statement.

After all, our land uses and infrastructure live that long so they will be exposed to increasing climate hazard risk. We do not want greater impacts that could have been avoided.

The good news is that we're not starting completely from scratch. The stocktake report laid out the expected impacts of climate change, existing work under way, and the gaps in knowledge and work programmes across central and local government and the private sector.

The group's second report on how we might address adaptation, and supporting actions to enable this, is under way.

The key now involves commitment, collaboration and urgency. The better and earlier prepared we are, the easier it will be to adapt and reduce the adjustment costs.

• Dr Judy Lawrence is co-chair of the Government's climate change adaptation technical working group and senior research fellow at the Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria University.