10 May 2024

Cross-party inquiry to develop 'enduring framework' for climate change adaptation

12:08 pm on 10 May 2024
A car is caught in floodwaters on Kintara Drive, Massey, as downpours hit Auckland, 9 May 2023.

Flooding in Auckland on 9 May 2023. Photo: Supplied

MPs from all parties will investigate how New Zealand can prepare and adapt for the effects of climate change.

Parliament agreed on Thursday to a motion to establish a cross-party inquiry, which will consider how adapting to more frequent and severe weather events should be funded, and how responsibilities should be shared.

The inquiry, led by the finance and expenditure committee, will report back in September and its recommendations will be used to help develop legislation to be introduced in early 2025.

Climate Change Minister Simon Watts said damaging weather events would only become more severe and frequent over time, and an "enduring and long-term approach" was needed to provide people with certainty.

"It's really important for us to take a leadership role in this regard. There's been a lot of commentary in regards to the fact that we haven't got a joined-up plan in regards to how we deal with one of the most significant fiscal issues that this country will face in the generations to come."

The "loud and clear feedback" from councils, insurers, iwi Māori and communities was that the government needed to provide a framework and guiding principles, he said.

Former Climate Change Minister and Green MP James Shaw, who left Parliament last week, announced an environment committee inquiry into climate adaptation and managed retreat in August last year.

The committee did not report back prior to the election and its work has been stalled until now.

The new enquiry would replace the previous one, and would consider the 150 submissions that had already been received, Watts said.

A further call for public submissions was likely.

The terms of reference for the new inquiry do not specifically mention retreat, or the resource management system, which local government authorities have criticised as inadequate for preventing natural hazard-prone development.

However, Watts said work before the previous inquiry, including an expert working group report into managed retreat, would also be considered by the committee.

"We haven't got time to be starting from scratch. We need to take into account both the work that was gathered as part of the prior process but also other independent reviews that have been undertaken as well in the years leading up to this."

The finance and expenditure committee was the appropriate committee to undertake the inquiry, as it contained politicians from all parties, Watts said.

He had discussed it with both government and opposition MPs and was "immensely grateful for the support expressed thus far for this work".

The committee would consider the "nature of the climate adaptation problem New Zealand faces", along with how adaptation costs could be shared, and who would assume responsibility.

Climate Change minister Simon Watts, wearing a blue suit, sits on a seawall on Auckland's North Shore.

Climate Change Minister Simon Watts Photo: RNZ / Cole Eastham-Farrelly

The Green Party said it welcomed "the continuation" of work on climate adaptation.

"We commend Minister Watts for picking up the mantle from Hon James Shaw to progress critical climate adaptation work in a cross-party manner," co-leader Chlöe Swarbrick said.

Many people in the North Island were still grappling with the clean-up, insurance issues and infrastructure gaps in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle and the Auckland floods, she said.

"These are the consequences of a warming planet and we must do everything we can to both mitigate climate changing emissions and adapt. Good policy does both."

"It is imperative we build enduring and long-lasting policies that outlast any one government."

Watts previously told RNZ the current response to climate change-related severe weather events was "not a sustainable model".

"We're seeing very ad hoc responses to emergency events, we're seeing ad hoc decisions around house buyouts across the country, and we're seeing variation between council to council, in the way in which the Crown interacts with that as well."

The Insurance Council, major insurers, councils and residents affected by Cyclone Gabrielle and the Auckland Anniversary floods have all called for a national structure and funding for managed retreat and climate adaptation measures.

A paper published by NIWA and University of Auckland last year found just over 440,000 houses, sheds and sleepouts are in known flood risk areas, with an estimated replacement value of $218 billion.

And research published in 2020 by the Climate Sigma group, looking at just the main centres, projected that 10,000 coastal homes would face full insurance retreat - where insurance is either not available at all or becomes prohibitively expensive - by 2050.

The expert working group report before the previous inquiry set out a basic framework for adaptation.

The group suggested that regional-level authorities would first identify general areas at risk within a region before detailed risk assessments were done by technical experts.

The affected communities would then be fully involved in identifying and choosing the solutions for a "local adaptation plan", which might include planned relocation for all or part of an area when a threshold - such as a specific sea level rise - was met.

The report recommended full compensation for homeowners who had to relocate, and slightly less for landlords and businesses. Owners of baches and other second homes would only get help with demolition or removal costs.

In addition, a proposed National Policy Statement on Natural Hazard Decision-making, drafted under the previous government last year, would direct councils to give greater weight to natural hazards when considering new resource consents.

That statement is also waiting for a response from the new government.

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