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Climate change and local government: what the national adaptation plan means for you

This info sheet explains how Aotearoa New Zealand's first national adaptation plan will help local government adapt to the effects of climate change.

Adapt and thrive: Building a climate-resilient New Zealand

Our first national adaptation plan will help New Zealanders adapt to the effects of climate change now, and better protect us against changes to come.

Many impacts are already with us, with unstable and unpredictable weather, worsening floods, droughts and storms, and rising sea levels. We can expect more changes will happen. Lowering emissions can reduce the impacts of climate change but won’t eliminate them all.

The national adaptation plan sets out what actions the Government will take over the next six years to help all New Zealanders adapt and thrive in a changing climate. It has actions relevant to every sector and community in New Zealand, and addresses the priority risks that need action now.

Climate change risks and the costs of adapting will need to be shared across society, but through the actions in the plan we can reduce the long-term costs across the motu.

Managing risk now and for the future

In 2020, the National Climate Change Risk Assessment set out 43 risks New Zealanders face from the impacts of climate change up to 2026.

These include risks to people’s health and property, risks to our infrastructure like roads or water supplies, and risks to our natural environments.

This national adaptation plan is the first in a series. It will be updated every six years to respond to changing climate risks.

Local government is on the front line of climate change

Councils have statutory responsibilities to avoid or mitigate natural hazards and to have regard to the effects of climate change when making certain decisions. They are also responsible for civil defence and emergency management, as well as improving community resilience through public education and local planning.

Around the country, many councils are already working with communities and iwi/Māori to address the climate change impacts. Some are developing adaptation plans and long-term adaptive pathways to proactively manage future risk. However, climate preparedness varies from region to region.

What you told us during consultation on the draft adaptation plan

During consultation on the draft adaptation plan, local government submitters:

  • sought more detail about who would lead actions and called for increased clarity about the roles and responsibilities of local government versus central government
  • emphasised that they are best placed to serve their own communities and would require data, tools, information and funding
  • emphasised that smaller, less well-resourced local councils with small ratepayer bases may require additional central government support for adaptation planning and implementation.

How actions in the plan will help local government adapt to climate change

The plan outlines a programme of work to support local councils to take action and adapt to climate change. It brings together existing actions and proposed future work to:

  • enable better risk-informed decisions
  • drive climate-resilient development in the right places
  • lay the foundations for a range of adaptation options including managed retreat
  • embed climate resilience across government policy.

Enabling better risk-informed decisions

The actions in the plan provide information, guidance and tools about climate change threats and responses. These can help local government understand and assess the risks they face and develop suitable adaptation strategies and solutions. Some of the key actions include:

Driving climate-resilient development in the right locations

Buildings and infrastructure have a long lifespan. Decisions we make today about how and where we develop really matter.

The plan will improve planning, infrastructure and decision-making frameworks to guide climate-resilient development in the right locations. This includes taking account of changing risks – such as exposure to sea-level rise, flooding, heat stress, coastal inundation, and wildfires.

Councils will need to have regard to the national adaptation plan in their plan making process from November 2022. Local government feedback on the draft plan sought clearer guidance around climate change scenarios, so the plan advises the use of recommended climate change scenarios when making or changing policy statements or plans under the Resource Management Act 1991, including to give effect to the provisions of the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010.

Adaptation options including managed retreat

Many communities are already under threat from natural hazards events. Successfully adapting will be vital as climate impacts worsen. Some people and communities may have to alter how and where they live.

One option is managed retreat, which may be necessary to reduce or eliminate exposure to intolerable risk. It’s a carefully planned and managed process of relocating assets, activities and sites of cultural significance away from at-risk areas.

The plan will support councils to understand the adaptation options available. Key actions include:

Other actions in this chapter relevant to local council action include:

Embedding climate resilience across government

The Government will embed climate resilience across all its strategies and policies. The following chapters in the plan have actions relevant to local government:

Natural environment
Homes, buildings and places
Economy and Financial System

Future engagement during implementation

As the plan is implemented, more targeted engagement with different stakeholders, including local government, will take place.

Inclusive engagement, particularly with those disproportionately affected by climate change, will help to ensure actions lead to equitable climate resilience.

We are taking the same approach with the implementation of the emissions reduction plan, and encouraging engaged and active public participation.

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