Who pays and how much for shifting homes and potentially entire communities due to extreme weather events associated with climate change is part of a major consultation process launched today.
Climate Change Minister James Shaw this morning published the draft National Adaptation Plan, which will determine how best the country should respond and fund costs associated with increased extreme weather events, and the thorny concept of "managed retreat" where areas become inhabitable.
The plan comes ahead of the much-anticipated Emissions Reduction Plan next month, which will outline how New Zealand will achieve the 2050 target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to keeping global warming below 1.5C.
Shaw said the best action was to cut emissions in the first place, but with recent extreme weather events, particularly in Tairāwhiti/Gisborne urgent action on how to adapt to impacts of climate change was needed also.
"Just in the last few months we have seen massive floods, such as those in Tairawhiti; storms, such as those experienced recently in Westport; fires in the Waituna wetlands in Southland; and droughts right across the country."
Climate effects would affect lives, incomes, homes, businesses and infrastructure, he said.
The draft plan outlines actions over the next six years in response to the 2020 National Climate Change Risk Assessment, including reforming resource and emergency management.
The consultation would ask how best to share risks and costs between property and asset owners, insurers, banks and local and central government as well.
Shaw said rough estimates showed the cost of losing properties and assets in coastal and floodplain areas to be threatened by climate change impacts was about $145 billion.
That was the cost of not doing anything, Shaw said. The Government wanted to have a system in place to reduce those costs as much as possible, including protections and building in suitable locations and managed retreat where necessary, along with how to divvy them up fairly.
"Central Government does not bear all the costs," Shaw said.
"[The plan] also asks for views on managed retreat and flood insurance, to ensure a joined-up approach to climate change adaptation."
The plan seeks to address issues raised in the managed retreat process that occurred in the Bay of Plenty town of Matatā, which took 16 years, a cost of about $17m and "years of stress and uncertainty for the community".
The plan aims to tackle these complex legal and technical issues, along with funding and financing adaptation through a new Climate Adaptation Act, aimed to be in place by the end of 2023.
Shaw said the best thing was to stop these extreme weather events from getting worse by cutting pollution in the first place.
Consultation on the draft plan starts tomorrow and ends June 3.
Experts welcome 'improvement', caution any further delay
University of Canterbury Professor Bronwyn Hayward, an author with the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said it was "encouraging" to see a focus on integrating actions and protecting vulnerable first.
Tackling Covid-19 had provided lessons of working with communities from the start, she said.
The plan also highlighted the "enormity" of the tasks ahead due to years of inaction, particularly around who pays where home owners, businesses, schools, ports or airports have to move away from high-risk areas. Inaction and poor planning in these areas was already starting to see prospects pf legal challenges overseas, she said.
Hayward said given the Government was required to report internationally progress about adaptation and mitigation efforts in 2025, it was not clear why these efforts would begin a year later in 2026. She was also concerned about appropriate resourcing.
Lincoln University's Professor Anita Wreford, an economist specialising in adaptation to climate change, said the plan was "highly overdue" and an improvement on the current "very reactive" approach focused on recovery after an event.
However, it was still unclear about how many aspects would be achieved.
In particular, Wreford said there was little guidance about how the Government would manage potential unintended consequences of private sector adaptation and conflicts between groups.
Asked about many of these issues including the balance of costs between private landowners and the state and insurers, Shaw said that was what the consultation process was designed to tackle.
Forest and Bird chief executive Nicola Toki said they welcomed proposals in the plan that sought nature-based solutions.
These included protecting and enhancing areas including native forests, wetlands, sand dunes, and mangroves.
Insurance company IAG New Zealand CEO Amanda Whiting said they welcomed the plan and the opportunity to contribute.
While the industry recognised its role, Whiting said they wanted to see greater investment in infrastructure and flood protection, sensible controls around where new homes can be built, and regulations that make existing homes more resilient, she said.
UN urges world to act now
The latest report of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published this month, found that, without immediate and deep emissions cuts across every single sector, the world was on track to burst through the 1.5C threshold quickly.
By 2100, the proportion of the world's population exposed to deadly heat stress was also projected to climb from 30 per cent today to somewhere between 48 and 76 per cent.
As many as three billion people could experience chronic water scarcity from droughts if warming reached 2C – and up to four billion under 4C of global temperature rise – with grim consequences for food production and ecosystems.
New Zealand could expect much more of what climate change has already brought us: more hot days, fewer cold days, melting glaciers, rising snowlines, heavier deluges and gradually acidifying oceans.
Northern regions would suffer more droughts and extreme fire danger, it found, while, on our southeastern coasts, effects like ocean warming and marine heatwaves could kill off kelp forests.
A 2020 Government risk assessment found 675,500 Kiwis lived in areas already prone to flooding, with a further 72,065 living in the firing line of where some of the most dramatic effects of sea level rise could hit.
Buildings, too, were at extreme risk – nearly 50,000 of them were currently exposed to coastal flooding, and at the highest range of warming scenarios, that could rise to nearly 120,000 this century.
According to the draft adaptation plan, over the past 10 years, climate change-related floods have cost the New Zealand economy at least $120 million for privately insured damages.
Economic losses from droughts have cost a further $720 million.
According to the UN, global temperature would only stabilise when carbon dioxide emissions reach net zero.
For 1.5C, that meant achieving net zero carbon dioxide emissions globally in the early 2050s; for 2C – the bottom line of the landmark Paris Agreement that New Zealand and around 200 nations have signed up to - it was in the early 2070s.
This assessment showed that limiting warming to around 2C still required global greenhouse gas emissions to peak before 2025 at the latest - and be reduced by a quarter by 2030.
In New Zealand alone, emissions have shot up by more than a quarter in the past three decades – with much of that increase coming from methane belched by dairy cattle and CO2 from road transport.
Last year, New Zealand's independent Climate Change Commission found the country's current climate policies failed to reflect what was needed to keep within 1.5C.
As at 2021, New Zealand was on track to undershoot our set 2050 target of net-zero long-lived gases by some 6.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent – and that we couldn't keep planting our way out of tough action.
The commission recommended a wholesale transformation across virtually every corner of the economy – from the cars we drive and import, and the cows and sheep we farm, through to the energy we produce and consume, the forests we plant and the houses we build.
Moreover, it set out a radical transition that, while changing the face of our country forever, would largely all happen within the next 15 years.
Cabinet ministers have since been assessing how those recommendations would fit into the Government's Emissions Reduction Plan, which would lock in three five-year carbon budgets, and was due to be published next month, after a lengthy delay.
Another UN report published in March said along with driving down emissions as hard and fast as possible, nations needed to put equity and nature at the core of adaptation efforts – especially as the world became more urbanised.
Adaptation progress was slowest among lower-income populations, but particularly in urban areas with poorly-planned growth and a lack of basic services.
The draft adaptation plan notes Māori as tangata whenua have been identified as particularly sensitive to climate impacts on the natural environment for social, economic, cultural and spiritual reasons.
Many Māori depend on primary industries for their livelihoods. In some places, climate change may alter patterns of use of mahinga kai (food-gathering sites) or rongoā crops (medicinal plants), and coastal impacts could disrupt access to marae or wāhi tapu (sacred sites).
The plan also notes the ability to shift is also likely to be more difficult for low-income groups, mobility-compromised and disabled people.