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  • New Zealand: Climate adaptation, vulnerability and community well-being

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New Zealand: Climate adaptation, vulnerability and community well-being

Source(s):  Deep South National Science Challenge (NZ)

Every regional council in the country, and over a quarter of our local councils, face extreme exposure to climate hazards like coastal erosion, flooding and rising groundwater levels. This research establishes a community development framework for the way we adapt and make decisions about climate change.

Over the coming years, communities will have to make near-impossible decisions – from how to pay for expensive coastal defence systems to when we should think about picking up our survey pegs and walking backwards from the coastline.

Communities will face increasing physical, social, financial and emotional challenges, and councils are already looking to central government to provide a cohesive framework for the planning and funding of adaptation. But to minimise suffering as we adapt - and to adapt successfully - local authorities also need new ways to engage with communities.

This research project (concluded in June 2019), draws on stories and insights from community members, iwi members and council staff. The research was also grounded in its case study locations of the Hutt Valley and South Dunedin.

Project findings suggest that council engagement with communities about climate impacts requires more than 'business as usual' engagement processes, because:

  • Adaptive decisions will need to be made at many points in time, probably over decades
  • These decisions often have to be made without a full understanding of what the future holds
  • Multiple individual decisions could result in inequitable outcomes, unless council has an overview of implications for the entire community
  • The community members most severely affected may well be those who are least empowered and least accustomed to ‘having a say’ in council decisions
  • It takes time to build the trust and capacity to be involved in decisions that have such far-reaching implications.

This research enriches the existing MfE Coastal Hazards and Climate Change Guidance by providing advice for councils and community groups on how and when to engage on climate change. The guidance recommends a Dynamic Adaptive Pathways Planning (DAPP) approach to engagement, by which critical decision points for adaptation investments are pre-defined.

This research supports local government staff (from adaptation advisers to community development teams to community groups themselves) to build community readiness to engage at these critical decision points. The research also provides tools (see below) for those who want to organise together to build resilience:

  • Policy guidance (including engagement framework) for local government adaptation and community development staff
  • A survey and report of councils, which explores why councils find it so challenging to meaningfully engage (background report for researchers or those seeking more in-depth information)
  • Conversation starters for community engagement staff:
    -A short graphic story introducing two young friends who live in a community affected by climate change. The pair reveal how devastating climate change can be and begin to understand the strength communities have when they work together on solutions
    -Two short videos based in South Dunedin, one exploring a neighbourhood’s response to the 2015 floods and subsequent events; the other exploring Dunedin City Council’s response and move towards proactively planning for climate hazards
  • You can also check out this hour-long research seminar video, with Janet Stephenson and Sophie Bond, at our YouTube channel.

The team’s research has received huge interest from local government, and in response, are presenting three online seminars for LGNZ Equip in July 2019.

In 2015, South Dunedin in New Zealand was hit by serious flooding. Not only did the community recover, but it has been learning from the increasingly common experience and working with the Dunedin City Council to build resilience and adapt to climate change. In this video, you’ll hear from community leaders and community members in South Dunedin as well as Deep South Challenge researchers, who talk about what engaging with the Council means in practice and why it is so important.

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  • Publication date 10 Jul 2019

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