Community-led retreat

Community-led retreat means moving homes, businesses, sites of cultural significance or taonga out of harm’s way in a carefully planned process that involves the community at every step.

Our climate is changing due to human-induced greenhouse gas emissions which are warming the global climate system.

Aotearoa New Zealand’s first National Climate Change Risk Assessment found that New Zealand’s climate is warming, sea levels are rising, and extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and intense.

We are significantly exposed to natural hazards such as floods and erosion. Around 750,000 New Zealanders, and 500,000 buildings worth more than $145 billion are near rivers and in coastal areas already exposed to extreme flooding. There are also a number of major urban centres, taonga and sites of cultural importance at risk.

The impacts of natural hazards are felt by everyone. Climate change is likely to make these events more frequent and severe.

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Community led-retreat is just one type of adaptation response

We can adapt to climate impacts by:

  • protecting our assets
    • building stop banks or sea walls
    • improving stormwater systems
  • accommodating for the change
    • raising properties
    • rebuilding more resiliently
  • avoiding development in high-risk areas

There are parts of New Zealand which are likely to become impossible to protect, due to climate change.

Community-led retreat means moving homes, businesses, sites of cultural significance or taonga out of harm’s way, in a carefully planned process that involves the community at every step.

That can be done before a natural disaster or severe weather event happens, or afterwards.

The image below illustrates the avoid, protect, accommodate and retreat options.

A series of illustrations to depict four approaches to adaptation. Avoid: no house is visible. Protect: a house is protected from the sea by a sea wall. Accommodate: a house near the sea is raised on stilts. Retreat: a house near the sea is positioned on

Inquiry into community-led retreat and adaptation funding

Parliament’s Environment Committee has opened an inquiry into how community-led retreat could become part of New Zealand’s climate adaptation system, and how the costs of adaptation could be met.

The Inquiry into Climate Adaptation will consider gaps in the current system, what new powers might be needed, and how a Te Tiriti-based system could work for iwi, hapū and Māori communities. Lessons learned from recent and past severe weather events and natural disasters will also be considered.

The inquiry called for public submissions. The submission period has closed. To inform and support submissions, the Ministry for the Environment published a paper exploring the issues and options, including who could make adaptation decisions, how they could decide, how communities could be involved, and how the costs could be shared.

The inquiry is expected to report back in 2024. Its findings are expected to inform development of the Climate Change Adaptation Bill.

See also technical report produced by an Expert Working Group.

Previous consultation on retreat

Public consultation

The Ministry consulted publicly on retreat alongside the draft national adaptation plan in April and May 2022. We asked questions on:

  • what would make an effective retreat process
  • what roles various actors should have
  • other considerations to take into account.

In particular, we asked how retreat could affect Māori and Māori land.

There are many Māori communities in coastal fringes and lowland areas that are already exposed to flooding, erosion and sedimentation. These risks are projected to increase with sea-level rise. 

Other Māori-owned land is steep and susceptible to damage from high-intensity rainstorms. About 80 per cent of land and ocean-based resources owned by Māori are held in multiple or communal ownership.

Feedback from draft national adaptation plan consultation informed the first national adaptation plan, published in August 2022, and has fed into the development of policy options for community-led retreat.