Submissions winging their way to Wellington on the Zero Carbon Bill will focus on C02 and methane emissions but fly over the biggest challenge – how to adapt to climate change.

The bill sets up a Climate Change Commission to take a long view providing independent, expert advice to successive governments on how to meet the challenges ahead and monitor progress.

Calling it a Zero Carbon Bill perversely puts the focus on mitigation or reducing greenhouse gases. Yet, no matter how much we reduce emissions, it will have negligible effect on reducing this country's economic, social and environmental loss from climate change. We're just too small to make a difference to global climate change.


That's not a reason to do nothing, New Zealand must play its part, as must other countries. In the UK, which provides the template for our bill, they called it the Climate Change Act. That more accurately captures what this is about rather than being a popular slogan.

Sea levels will continue to rise, and extreme weather events will become more frequent whatever we do. We have $20 billion of assets within 1.5m of the mean high tide mark.

We will get more rain in the west and drought in the east. New pests and diseases will thrive here. Current farming practices will be less profitable in some parts of the country.

Refugees from countries devastated by drought or sea-level rise will look to New Zealand for refuge.

How do we plan to adapt to reduce these risks? The consultation paper on the bill, with blindingly short-sighted vision, asked whether adaptation should be part of the Climate Change Commission's remit. To suggest adaptation is a second order issue is to misunderstand the issue entirely. Here are some reasons why.

Adaptation often overlaps with mitigation where they can't be separated. Think how it makes more sense to grow vines or to replace dairying and reduce methane emissions in areas that become more arid. Think of building more energy efficient buildings or switching to electric vehicles.

Every dollar spent on disaster risk reduction saves at least $5 in recovery costs after an event.

Reducing gas emissions will come at a price, so significant complementary savings are needed. The longer we delay the costlier the adjustment later.


We must take a long view so there is a clear road-map out to 2050. Infrastructural investment such as in transport, energy and housing will need this. If not, investors will see assets stranded or investments held back until there is certainty. Gas reduction targets have fundamental implications for future adaptation measures.

This means the commission's role must assess how well we co-ordinate the two.

Public communications and conversations need to align what we are doing to save the planet with what we are doing closer to home to protect ourselves. The commission will be the independent, expert voice on these matters – it cannot be allowed to simply focus on mitigating gas emissions.

Being a resilient country isn't just about the economic costs and protecting physical assets. Resilience is the result of cumulative action to strengthen our human, social and natural capital too. All are inter-linked and must respond to the pervasive impact of climate change.

Risk reduction or adaptation means building resilience. Carving it out of the Climate Change Commission would be a fundamental mistake. Adaptation must be treated as equally important and resourced equally as a central part of the commission's work.

Expertise with adaptation is a strong domain of the insurance industry and where we seek to work with central and local government to better protect New Zealand.

We encourage people to have their say on the bill at before July 19.

• Tim Grafton is chief executive of the Insurance Council of New Zealand.