Climate change adaptation and central government

Outlining the role of central government in helping New Zealand adapt to the impacts of climate change

Role of central government

Central government sets the direction so that New Zealand’s people, environmental, economy and national infrastructure, are more resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Central government:

  • provides the legislative and policy framework
  • provides information and guidance to support local government and businesses to make effective adaptation decisions
  • funds research and publishes information on climate change impacts
  • prepares for and responds to major natural hazard events.

In November 2016 the Government asked a group of technical experts across the public and private sectors to provide advice on how New Zealand could adapt to the effects of climate change.

Find out about the Climate change adaptation technical working group and its stocktake and recommendations reports.

Legislative and policy framework

1. Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019 [New Zealand Legislation website]

The Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019 will require New Zealand to prepare for, and adapt to, the effects of climate change through:

  • six-yearly national climate change risk assessments produced by the Climate Change Commission (with the first one produced by Government)
  • national adaptation plans produced by the Government, the implementation of which will be monitored by the Climate Change Commission
  • an adaptation reporting power for the Government and the Climate Change Commission to use to seek information about how organisations are identifying climate risks and preparing to adapt.

2. Resource Management Act 1991

The Resource Management Act 1991 is another key piece of legislation for adapting to climate change and associated natural hazards. All people exercising duties and functions under the RMA are required to have particular regard to the effects of climate change and this is undertaken as part of wider natural hazards management.

One of the changes introduced by the Resource Legislation Amendment Act 2017 is that “the management of significant risks from natural hazards” is a new matter of national importance in section 6 of the RMA.

3. Civil Defence and Emergency Management Act 2002 [New Zealand Legislation website]

The Act provides for hazards and risks, and emergency response and recovery.

4. National disaster resilience strategy [Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management website]

The strategy sets out what New Zealanders expect from civil defence emergency management and what we want to achieve.

5. Thirty year New Zealand infrastructure plan 2015 [National Infrastructure Unit website]

The importance of taking into account the implications of climate change for infrastructure management is reflected in 'Our climate is changing and our natural resources are under pressure' on page 16.

6. National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management

The NPS-FM provides national policy direction to regional councils on freshwater management and requires regional councils to have regard to the reasonably foreseeable impacts of climate change. 

7. New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010 [Department of Conservation website]

The NZ CPS includes specific policies for the management of coastal hazards and requires consideration of the effects of climate change.

Information and guidance

Central government provides information and guidance on climate change effects that are most likely to have a significant impact at a regional, national or sector level. This is so local government, engineers, businesses and individuals have access to the information they need in order to adapt. The Ministry for the Environment coordinates the central government adaptation programme.

Resources include:


Central government is spending approximately $100 million over 10 years on research and projects relating to adapting to climate change. This research will assist local councils, businesses, individuals and communities to identify impacts and implement effective adaptation solutions.

Research initiatives include:

A project to update and improve projections of climate trends, variability and extremes across New Zealand out to 2100

The purpose of this initiative is to increase New Zealand's resilience to natural hazards through high quality collaborative research.

NIWA is developing guidelines and advice to help coastal communities adapt to climate change.

Understanding the role of the Antarctic and Southern Ocean in determining our climate and our future environment, to enable New Zealanders to adapt, manage risk and thrive in a changing climate.

Enhancing New Zealand's ability to anticipate, adapt and thrive in the face of ever-changing natural hazards.