Northland climate change adaptation efforts gain importance: new sea-level rise predictions

4:32 pm on 16 September 2021

Sea-level rise predictions are increasing the urgency of Northland's first regional climate change strategy.

The tide comes in at the beach in Omapere, New Zealand.

Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

The new Climate Adaptation Te Tai Tokerau strategy is expected to be in place early next year.

Northland Regional Council (NRC) climate change resilience coordinator Matt de Boer said new international figures from the global Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) showing a sea-level rise of up to 5 metres by 2150 could not be ruled out under a high carbon-emissions scenario.

These and other IPCC figures made Northland work to deal with rising sea levels even more important.

In line with Environment Ministry expectations, increases of 0.5m to 1.5m were being factored into Northland councils' climate adaptation work, de Boer said.

Northland has 3200km of coastline along which many communities live, work and play.

The draft strategy is shaping up as councils across the region work together on how communities' adaptation to sea-level rise will play out.

It is being developed by NRC, Far North, Kaipara and Whangārei district councils, along with tangata whenua and the community.

The strategy and implementation plan will set out a 10-year work programme that identifies how and where councils will work with communities to develop climate change adaptation plans - including key localities, appropriate methods for adaptation engagement, associated timeframes and required resourcing. It aims to help coordinate, organise and align collective council activities to support climate change adaptation.

New IPCC forecasting was presented to the recent second meeting of Northland's new joint climate change adaptation committee.

The eight-member group has a councillor from each of Northland's four councils and an iwi/hapu representative from each jurisdiction. It held its first meeting in April.

Climate change impacts were already happening, said Amy Macdonald, joint climate change adaptation committee chair and NRC councillor.

"The evidence is clear that climate change is the largest environmental challenge of our time.

"We can see it's not just a future process - it is happening now.

"Our communities increasingly see climate change reflected in the environment around them and they have growing concern about the future for their children and grandchildren," she said.

Working with district councils, tangata whenua and affected communities was crucial to ensuring Northland was prepared for climate change.

Delaraine Armstrong, joint committee deputy chair and Whangārei District Council tangata whenua representative, said more input from tangata whenua was needed in the draft strategy's development.

The strategy will next go to the region's four councils for further development work, including with their representative tangata whenua groups, before their formal endorsements. Final plan sign-off is expected at the joint governance committee's November meeting before formal adoption in March.

Kaipara Mayor and joint climate change adaptation committee member Dr Jason Smith said the strategy helped Northland prepare.

"It's putting Northland ahead of the curve with something about which there is great urgency at present," Smith said.

Macdonald said the strategy was guided by three key questions: what is happening, what can be done about it and what are the next steps?

"The strategy provides an overview of climate change risks to Northland with a focus on local government responsibilities, with the aim of identifying priority risks requiring adaptation planning," Smith said.

The five-month-old governance group is a key new development in regional climate change adaptation work. It adds to an already-in-place cross-council regional staff-level working group for the North.

Northland councils' first shared staff climate change working group - Climate Adaptation Te Tai Tokerau - was set up in 2018 to work on a collaborative approach to climate change adaptation.

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