First national climate change risk assessment for New Zealand

This first national climate change risk assessment helped the Government identify where it needed to prioritise action. It was an important step towards making New Zealand more resilient.

What the risk assessment did

The risk assessment:

  • gave the first national picture of the risks New Zealand faces from climate change
  • identified 43 priority risks covering all aspects of life from our ecosystems and communities to buildings and the financial system 
  • grouped risks according to five value domains: natural environment, human, economy, built environment, and governance
  • identified the 10 most significant risks that require urgent action in the next six years to reduce their impacts 
  • laid the foundation for the national adaptation plan which outlines the Government’s response to these risks.

Process for the risk assessment

The risk assessment was carried out over nine months by a diverse, multi-disciplinary team led by AECOM, together with Tonkin and Taylor, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) and others.

It was carried out in three stages.

Three stages of first risk assessment
Three stages of first risk assessment

Diagram description

Stage 1: First-pass risk screen

Examine risks and opportunities across New Zealand.

Prioritise these for further assessment.

Result: A set of 48 priority risks and five opportunities. Priority risks are those with extreme or major consequence ratings in at least one of three assessment timeframes (now, by 2050, by 2100).

Stage 2: Detailed risk assessment

Examine the 48 risks.

Investigate vulnerability and exposure.

Clarify the consequences of these risks under two climate scenarios in the present term, near term and long term.

Result: A set of 43 priority risks and four opportunities.

Stage 3: Urgency for adaptation

Assess existing and planned adaptation and how high-level actions are addressing priority risks.


  • where early action would avoid being locked into a current pathway
  • actions needing long lead times
  • actions with long-term implications.

Result: Urgency ratings for adaptation, for each priority risk and opportunity.

The people responsible for leading work associated with each of the five domains were: 

  • Governance – Dr Judy Lawrence (Victoria University)
  • Economy – Dr Anita Wreford (Lincoln University)
  • Human- Dr Paula Blackett (NIWA)
  • Built Environment – James Hughes (Tonkin & Taylor)
  • Natural Environment – John Leathwick (Conservation science consultant).

More than 400 people were involved. They were from local government, central government, the private sector, primary sector, financial sector, iwi/Māori and universities/research institutes. 

The risk assessment used a framework, developed by a panel of experts. The framework provided the methodology for the risk assessment.

See Arotakenga Huringa Āhuarangi: A Framework for the National Climate Change Risk Assessment for Aotearoa New Zealand.

The risk assessment method report details how the framework was applied to the risk assessment.

Next steps

  • The Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019 requires a risk assessment at least every six years. The Climate Change Commission will carry out future risk assessments. 
  • The first risk assessment lays the groundwork for the next by documenting the method (see the Method report).