The Government released the much anticipated exposure draft of the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBA) on 30 June 2021. The NBA is the primary piece of legislation replacing the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), and will be supplemented by the Strategic Planning Act (SPA) and the Climate Change Adaptation Act (CAA).

The NBA addresses climate change through the Bill’s new purposes and principles, the National Planning Framework (NPF), and Natural and Built Environment Plans (NBA plans).

Purposes and principles

The NBA has two purposes, set out in Part 2 of the Bill - to enable use of the environment to support the well-being of present generations without compromising the wellbeing of future generations, and to uphold Te Oranga o te Taiao.

Te Oranga o te Taiao has similarities to Te Mana o Te Wai but is a new concept in resource management legislation that is central to the NBA. It reflects a te ao Māori approach to environmental management recognising:

  1. the health of the natural environment;
  2. the intrinsic relationship between iwi and hapū and te Taiao;
  3. the interconnectedness of the natural environment; and
  4. the relationship between the health of the natural environment and its life-sustaining capacity.

Part 2 of the Bill arguably focuses more on protection than the current Part 2 of the RMA, and includes a requirement to give effect to the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (a higher standard than under the RMA which is to ‘take into account the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi’). The new Part 2 also requires compliance with environmental limits and a long list of environmental outcomes that must be promoted in all plans, including, in relation climate change. Of particular relevance are the outcomes set out at clause 8(j), (o) and (p):

 (j) greenhouse gas emissions are reduced and there is an increase in removal of those gases from the atmosphere

(o) the ongoing provision of infrastructure services to support the well-being of people and communities, including by supporting -

          (i) the use of land for economic, social and cultural activities

          (ii) an increase in the generation, storage, transmission, and use of renewable energy

(p) in relation to natural hazards and climate change, -

          (i) the significant risks of both are reduced; and

(ii) the resilience of the environment to natural hazards and the effects of climate change is improved.

In addition to this, Part 2 requires compliance with a set of implementation principles, which notably include a requirement to take a precautionary approach, which is particularly relevant to addressing the uncertainties and effects associated with climate change.

National Planning Framework and Natural and Built Environments Plans

Part 3 of the Bill establishes a NPF, providing integrated central government direction on the use, protection and enhancement of the natural and built environment, which will then be reflected in the NBA plans. The NPF may set directions, policies, goals or methods, or provide criteria, targets, or definitions.

One NBA plan will be created per region, replacing and consolidating existing regional policy statements, regional plans and district plans. Each NBA plan must identify and provide for matters significant to the particular region and manage the environment within limits specific to that region. However, given the importance of addressing climate change issues on a national basis in accordance with the Climate Change Response Act, it can be expected that the NPF will include provisions directing councils in this regard.

Strategic Planning Act and Managed Retreat and Climate Change Adaptation Act

As mentioned above, the SPA and CCA will form part of the legislative framework, alongside the NBA, that replaces the RMA.

The purpose of the SPA is to provide a strategic and long-term approach to planning for using land and the coastal marine area. Strategic planning will enable the long-term effects of climate change to be factored in to land use and infrastructure decision-making. In addition, the CCA will provide new mechanisms to facilitate the managed retreat from areas of risk by addressing current constraints, including compensation for affected owners and occupiers.

NBA - Climate Change Implications

An express purpose of the RMA review was to better deal with the impacts of climate change.

The concept of intergenerational equity (part of the new statutory purpose) and the requirement to adopt a precautionary approach are particularly relevant to climate change given its long term and intergenerational impacts. The strategic planning process will also ensure a long-term and integrated approach is taken to incorporate climate change effects into planning decisions, including through the statutory planning process under the NBA. The requirement to promote specific outcomes related to climate change will ensure these issues receive more focus through the statutory planning process.

As explained above, significant direction is anticipated in this regard from central government through the NPF. This and other provisions will provide a clearer link between the documents prepared under the Climate Change Response Act (emissions reduction plans, adaptation plans etc) and plans to be produced under the SPA and NBA.

The NBA is undergoing a unique, two-stage select committee process which provides dual opportunities for consultation. The first stage is a Select Committee enquiry into the exposure draft. The second stage is expected to kick off in early 2022.

Thanks to Rachael Mortiaux, Maddy Ash, Emily Moon and Lucy Young for their assistance in writing this article.


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