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Councils need to assess, plan for, and report on climate change risk

August 30, 2019

Contacts

Partners Gerald Lanning, Jonathan Salter, Sarah Scott
Special Advisors Mark Baker-Jones, David Cochrane
Senior Associates Joanna Lim, Tim Fischer

Climate change (inc Zero Carbon Bill and Emissions Trading Scheme) Infrastructure (inc funding)

The critical importance infrastructure plays in providing for community wellbeing, and the need for councils to keep climate change adaptation ‘front of mind’ when making decisions relating to infrastructure, is underscored in the latest report by Local Government New Zealand/Te Kāhui Kaunihera ō Aotearoa. 

The report provides councils with guidance and a consistent approach, for regularly collecting the data required to assess exposure of their infrastructure to sea level rise, coastal inundation and inland flooding. 

It is timely in the context of government plans in relation to infrastructure governance, aligning with the information gathering powers and functions of the Te Waihanga and Zero Carbon Bills, and builds on LGNZ’s Vulnerable report, released earlier this year.

In summary - what you need to know:

  • The report reiterates the assessment process for climate adaptation in the MfE’s Coastal Hazards and Climate Change - Guidance for Local Government (2017)

  • It focuses on data gathering as the critical first step in infrastructure related decision making, presenting a summary of the type of data councils should collect

  • The report also aims to help elected members identify climate risk, and points out the legal risks for councils when individuals and communities start to look for redress.

Background - Government framework for climate change risk assessment

Both the Te Waihanga Bill and the Zero Carbon Bill will give the government the power to gather information from councils. For example, the Zero Carbon Bill powers will require councils to provide an assessment of the current and future effects of climate change in relation to the council’s functions. 

Under the Zero Carbon Bill, the government is also required to carry out a National Climate Change Risk Assessment (NCCRA). The NCCRA will provide a national overview of how New Zealand may be affected by various hazards and threats that are caused, exacerbated or influenced by climate change. A panel was established earlier this year to create the framework for NCCRA and this is expected to be made available shortly. 

The New Zealand Infrastructure Commission/Te Waihanga Bill proposes to provide Te Waihanga with powers to gather information from government bodies necessary or desirable to enable Te Waihanga to perform its functions. (Simpson Grierson special counsel David Cochrane has been appointed to the inaugural board of the New Zealand Infrastructure Commission, Te Waihanga). The Finance and Expenditure select committee has since reported back on the Bill and has recommended that those powers to gather information from government bodies be strengthened. 

LGNZ report: a focus on data gathering

This latest climate change report from LGNZ, Exposed: Climate change and infrastructure - guidance for councils, reiterates the assessment process for climate adaptation in the Ministry for Environment’s (MfE’s) Coastal Hazards and Climate Change - Guidance for Local Government (2017) and focuses on data gathering as the critical first step in that decision-making.

The LGNZ report is designed to provide councils with support, and a consistent approach, for regularly assessing the exposure of their infrastructure to sea level rise and inland flood risk. It does this by presenting a summary of the type of data councils should collect - environmental, topographical, infrastructure and property data - and outlining an exposure assessment process. 

In addition, the report provides a useful list of questions for elected members to help identify climate risk in what is a complex area that requires their active leadership. The report also points out the legal risks for councils when individuals and communities start to look for redress, and the importance of engaging in a data-driven understanding of the problems to assist local government to be on a sound footing. 

Next steps

The framework being establish by central government and the latest report from LGNZ should encourage councils to begin considering what a risk assessment means for them, and to build a base of reportable information that they can also use for planning.

The Office of the Auditor-General has also warned councils that they need to do more to gain better information about the potential effects of climate change for the purpose of their long term plans and infrastructure strategies. A further consideration is that when setting parameters for data collection and modelling, it may also be efficient to ensure that the data is also suitable for planning processes under the Resource Management Act. 

Our team is available to assist councils understand the implications of the reporting requirements under the Te Waihanga and Zero Carbon Bills. Please get in touch with one of our contacts for advice on the issues that will need be addressed when assessing and reporting on climate change exposure and planning.