3 Aug 2022

Climate national adaptation plan: National Party criticises pace of release

From Checkpoint, 5:10 pm on 3 August 2022

The opposition is chiding the government for taking well into its second term to release a strategy for dealing with the effects of climate change.

But Climate Change Minister James Shaw said the government was being forced to make up for decades of inaction from previous governments, including the National Party.

The national adaptation plan recognises the current rules and laws are blocking action and intends to embed climate resilience in all government policies. 

Aotearoa has been been hammered by floods, fires, droughts and marine heatwaves in recent years, and the 200-page document released today sets out a plan for coping with these inevitable effects of climate change.

Ōwhiro Bay on Wellington's south coast is in the firing line, and local resident Eugene Doyle said for communities like his, there was no time to waste. 

"My criticism is on the timing of what's being done, and the lack of serious money to actually drive this forward."

There was nothing much in the way of major new policy in the plan. Instead, it details more than 120 points of action already started or intended in the next six to build climate resilience.

Climate Change Minister James Shaw speaks to media at Owhio Bay, which has been slammed by repeated storms, after revealing the National Adaptation Plan

Climate Change Minister James Shaw says the government is catching up with decades of inaction. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Shaw said successive governments have known about climate change for decades and done very little and this government was now forced to play catchup. 

"Look, I am the first person to say how frustrated I am at the incredibly slow pace of government in responding to the climate crisis.

"Now that we've actually got a statutory plan in place, I think that you'll see the momentum pick up."

National Party climate spokesperson Scott Simpson said despite the draft version of the plan asking for the public's input, it was silent on the potentially trillion-dollar question of who would carry the cost.

National MP for Coromandel Scott Simpson listens to a submission to the Health Select committee on a petition to permit medically-assisted dying.

National Party climate spokesperson Scott Simpson Photo: RNZ / Daniela Maoate - Cox

"Well better late than never, five years into this government's term and they're finally addressing the adaptation plan.

"But the big question is really left unanswered which is 'who pays?', and that's not addressed in the plan."

Nervous waterfront homeowners will have to wait until next year for further developments from the massive Resource Management Act reforms to find out how much central and local government will be pitching in. 

Political finger pointing aside, University of Waikato environmental planning professor Iain White said having a plan like this at all was a milestone in itself. 

It had enough teeth to hold whoever was in power to account, Prof White said.

"This [multi-decade] process of risk assessments, progress reports, it's got some built-in ... commitment devices.

"It looks like it can hold a level of accountability to the plan that will carry on, regardless of which government happens to be in power at the time."

'A multi-decade challenge'

Shaw told Checkpoint the framework set in the Zero Carbon Act was key to ensuring the mitigation work to adapt New Zealand to the consequences of climate change gets done, no matter what party is in government.

“This is a multi-decade challenge, and it has to survive multiple changes of government… I hope to be obviously able to execute as much of that programme as possible.”

There was not just one lever to pull when it came to funding and financing climate change adaption work, he said.

“One of the first things that we're doing right now is looking at flood risk insurance, which obviously with the number of flood events that we've had in recent days… we know that that is a very clear and present danger, as we deal with that will then be learning lessons that we can apply to other forms of climate-related risk.

“So part of this will land in the insurance industry part of it will land at central government, often the things that are most closest in time, central government tends to pick up the tab.”