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Adaptation

The default setting of the global clock above is the ‘2°C scenario‘. To keep the planet habitable for most (but not all) people, global average temperatures must stay below 1.5°C. Click on the ‘1.5°C scenario‘ box on the above right. This shows that globally, we must stop emitting all greenhouse gases by 2029; far sooner than the Government’s goal of ‘net zero by 2050’. Average global temperatures passed 1.5°C in 2023 (Fig. 1).

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Adaptation

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Lukewarm promises made by governments in 2021 have long since been broken. Emissions are increasing, not declining, with global fossil fuel subsidies surging to record $7 Trillion in 2022. The world is currently accelerating towards at 3°C+ by 2100 and further warming into the next century (Fig. 2). To compound the problem, irreversible climate tipping points not factored into the IPCC modelling used in Figure 2 already are being passed. Due to feedback effects, instead of absorbing greenhouse gases, large parts of what little remains of natural world are now releasing them into the atmosphere, adding to what we’re emitting. This means that 4°C+ is a realistic possibility.
 
The 2023 Auckland floods and Cyclone Gabrielle has driven home the point that climate change is not a remote problem. It’s here in Aotearoa, now, and yet…
 
“In the aftermath of [these events], the government developed, once more, an ad-hoc arrangement with councils that seems to incentivize more poorly planned developments and investments in high-risk areas, and a refusal to recognise that the risks are changing because of climate change.

“An external expert working group convened by the Ministry for the Environment issued a suggested framework on how to develop a coherent system of planned relocations that will reduce risk, rather than enhance it.

“Nothing has been done, however, and it seems that when another inevitable disaster will happen, we will again improvise a response that will again fail to deal with the underlying risk from climate change.”
Prof. Ilan Noy, Chair in the Economics of Disasters and Climate Change, Victoria University of Wellington, 2024
 
Fig. 1: Daily global surface air temperature increase relative to the average for 1850–1900, the designated pre-industrial reference period.  Credit: Carbon Brief
Fig. 2: Our current trajectory is now closer to SSP5-8.5 Image: IPCC AR6

“What is effective adaptation? To be effective, adaptation action must enable New Zealand’s communities to reduce the risks from climate change impacts today, and over the medium and long term by:

  • reducing the exposure and vulnerability of our social and cultural systems, natural and built environment (including physical assets), and economy
  • maintaining and improving the capacity of our social, cultural, environmental, physical and economic systems to adapt

“We identified three characteristics that need to be in place for effective adaptation to be implemented in New Zealand:

  1. being informed about how the climate is changing and what this means for New Zealanders
  2. being organised, with a common goal, a planned approach, appropriate tools, and clear roles and responsibilities
  3. taking dynamic action to proactively reduce exposure and vulnerability to the social, cultural, environmental and economic consequences of climate change.”  MfE Adapting to Climate Change in New Zealand, 2018

  Innovation

To mitigate these rapidly compounding impacts, we need to redouble our efforts to stop emissions while simultaneously deploying adaptation strategies to accommodate wilder weather and rising sea levels that are now unavoidable and irreversible on human time scales. And we need to do so quickly.

In many instances, protecting and restoring native ecosystems (nature-based solutions) helps both mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Adaptation also requires developing and implementing tools that help communities cope with inevitable and unavoidable non-economic as well as economic losses, while avoiding bad decisions that result in costly and potentially deadly maladaptation.

A Local Government New Zealand report found that process of engaging with communities at risk to help make the best—albeit unpalatable—choices are hindered by a lack of resources, vague policies, and ill-defined laws. These outdated laws were due to be replaced by the proposed Managed Retreat and Climate Change Act but the new coalition Government scrapped climate policies in December 2023. As things stand, developers are pitted against councils faced with potential legal action for declining development. Perversely, these councils will be subject to legal action from affected owners for permitting that development. And they’ll have to fight this litigation using money we paid either via rates or indirectly from rent.

Any new legislation could take years to decades to come into full effect, subject to any change of government scrapping whatever the previous government legislates.

Links in the menus will be added as practical applications and strategies become available.

More information

NIWA: Adaptation: from infrastructure to insurance
NIWA: Impacts of a changing climate on short term and long term energy planning

To mitigate these rapidly compounding impacts, we need to redouble our efforts to stop emissions while simultaneously deploying adaptation strategies to accommodate wilder weather and rising sea levels that are now unavoidable and irreversible on human time scales. And we need to do so quickly.

In many instances, protecting and restoring native ecosystems (nature-based solutions) helps both mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Adaptation also requires developing and implementing tools that help communities cope with inevitable and unavoidable non-economic as well as economic losses, while avoiding bad decisions that result in costly and potentially deadly maladaptation.

A Local Government New Zealand report found that process of engaging with communities at risk to help make the best—albeit unpalatable—choices are hindered by a lack of resources, vague policies, and ill-defined laws. These outdated laws  were due to be replaced by the proposed Managed Retreat and Climate Change Act  but the new coalition Government scrapped all climate policies in December 2023. As things stand, developers are pitted against councils faced with potential legal action for declining development. Perversely, these councils will be subject to legal action from affected owners for permitting that development. And they’ll have to fight this litigation using money we paid either via rates or indirectly from rent.

Any new legislation could take years to decades to come into full effect, subject to further changes in government scrapping whatever the previous government legislates.

Links in the menus will be added as practical applications and strategies become available.

More information

NIWA: Adaptation: from infrastructure to insurance
NIWA: Impacts of a changing climate on short term and long term energy planning

  Innovation