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Adapting to climate change needs to be a top priority

07 Mar 2018

Climate change adaptation has once again taken a back to seat to carbon budgets in the latest report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE), says the Insurance Council of NZ.

ICNZ’s comments follow the release this afternoon of a PCE report on the establishment of a climate change commission and legislation to enact the Zero Carbon Act.

“It is disappointing more prominence has not been given to how New Zealand will adapt to climate change impacts,” said ICNZ Chief Executive, Tim Grafton, “because no matter how successful New Zealand is in achieving greenhouse gas reduction targets, we will still have to deal with the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events.”

“Greenhouse gas emissions are cumulative, which means rising temperatures, increased flood risk in some parts of the country and increased risk of drought in others. Unless we adapt, there will be significant economic, social and environmental costs,” said Grafton.

Last year, extreme weather events caused more than 25,000 claims from homes and businesses at a total cost of over $240 million in insured losses. If there were to be a 30cm sea level rise between now and 2065, a relatively conservative possibility, what are today considered extreme, 1-in-100-year high water levels will occur annually in both Wellington and Christchurch. There are 32,000 homes within 1.5m of the current mean high tide level.

“How we become more resilient and reduce these risks is what adaptation is all about. New Zealand needs its central government to take ownership of identifying and reducing risks to people, property and the environment, and providing clear guidance to local government as that is where many decisions are made,” said Grafton.

“This requires dedicated resources, coordination across Ministries and bipartisan political commitment towards achieving over the long term. These matters need to be at the heart of the package of reforms the Government is considering alongside climate change mitigation. As the Commissioner notes, New Zealand is one of the few OECD countries to not have a national adaptation strategy and that should be provided for in legislation.”

Monitoring how well New Zealand is reducing its climate change risks should be done independently and transparently. Responsibility for coordinating planning should rest with a central agency that has an overview of nationally significant risks.

Published 7 March 2018