Impacts and implications of climate change

July 2017

Flooding has become an increasing climate-related problem in New Zealand.

This year’s bill for climate-related disasters in New Zealand has already climbed to $174.7 million, according to the insurance industry. The Whakatane District Council is currently applying to purchase 34 properties in Matata, because it says they are at risk of debris flows in heavy downpours. When it comes to communities exposed to climate-related risk where does responsibility lie?

Suzi Kerr, Senior Fellow at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, is coordinating the Impacts and Implications programme for the Deep South National Science Challenge. The aim of this science challenge is to understand the potential impacts and implications of climate change for New Zealand in order to support planning and decision-making, and aid adaptation efforts.

Climate change has potential impacts across a range of areas. These include:

  • Physical impacts, such as sea-level rise and changing temperatures;
  • Social and socioeconomic impacts, such as how the physical changes will impact different groups within New Zealand society; and
  • Environmental impacts, including how climate change will impact New Zealand’s natural environment.

Understanding how climate change will impact New Zealand allows us to plan for it effectively.  To achieve this, Deep South is bringing together different types of information to gain a ‘big picture’ view of climate change and its impacts. The purpose is to produce knowledge that New Zealand communities, including Māori, industry, and government groups, can use to plan for, and adapt to, climate change. In order to do this it is necessary to involve these community groups, and to learn what issues relating to the impacts of climate change are important to them. 

Deep South is using an innovative stakeholder dialogue process, invented by Motu, to investigate issues central to the challenge. The Deep South Dialogues bring together researchers, community leaders, government agencies, and NGOs to formulate research questions around the following topics:

  • Insurance, coastal housing, and climate change;
  • Flood-prone communities;
  • Waste and storm water infrastructure;
  • Drought; and
  • Transport.

The dialogue process involves two full-day meetings, around six weeks apart, for 20 participants from industry, government, iwi, the research community and, ideally, civil society. Motu aims to have a mix of expertise and a diversity of gender, age and culture in the room. Participants do not attend as representatives of their organization but as individuals.

Deep South Dialogue participants prioritize up to six questions, which are developed and tailored to be useful for the stakeholder group.

The first dialogue, which finished in June, was on Insurance, Coastal Housing and Climate Change Adaptation. While many people are familiar with television footage of homeowners sweeping out silt and diggers clearing roads, the new report, led by Ilan Noy and Belinda Storey from Victoria University of Wellington, goes deeper than the impacts of floods on individual homes or roads. It highlights how climate change may challenge our existing insurance arrangements. The report was covered widely by the media including by the NZ Herald, Newsroom, and the Science Media Centre.

One of the key lessons from this report is that, especially when purchasing a property, every New Zealander should be aware that “In areas recognised as especially vulnerable to climate change risks, there will be properties that become difficult to sell or insure. Homeowners could experience significant losses and displacement following a [single] disaster. or following a series of smaller events that accumulate to large losses.”

The report also highlights that climate change makes putting a price on weather “risk” difficult because climate change alters both the frequency and intensity of events – making historical data a less relevant benchmark. Interestingly, most of the recent global increase in coastal risk has come from urbanisation and economic development. But, as the rate of sea-level rise increases, the frequency and severity of floods and storms are expected to replace urbanisation and development as the primary driver of escalating coastal risks.

Meetings on Flood-prone Communities and Sea Level Rise and Climate Change and Stormwater & Wastewater Infrastructure dialogue meetings have also been completed recently.

Next up will be dialogues focussed on Drought Management and Urban and Freight Transport, Flooding and Sea Level Rise.

Climate change will mean difficult transitions in all these areas. Given the overlap between local and central government, these transitions will require national coordination of local conversations. Motu is pleased to be co-ordinating the investigation into the impacts and implications of climate change in New Zealand for the Deep South National Science Challenge.