Adapting our infrastructure to climate change

The Government is consulting on a national plan to help us adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Lowering emissions can limit the severity of further, future climate change, but not the changes that are already locked in and can’t be reversed. The kind of changes we’re seeing are rising sea levels, more frequent flooding, coastal and inland erosion, and drought. The weather is more turbulent and less predictable. These changes affect every aspect of our infrastructure system – from construction and maintenance to daily operations and long-term planning.

We have a clear picture of the top priority risks from the 2020 National Climate Change Risk Assessment(external link). They range across our natural environment, homes, buildings and places, infrastructure, communities, economy and financial systems. The National Adaptation Plan (NAP) is a first step towards reducing these risks.

Te Waihanga has developed the Infrastructure Chapter of the NAP in collaboration with a range of government stakeholders who help support resilience and adaptive capacity in our infrastructure system. Actions have been purposefully developed to act at the system level to create resilience and adaptive capacity in new and existing infrastructure across Aotearoa New Zealand. Actions intend to build on the work already underway by Lifeline Utilities, who have the obligation under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act to be able to fully function, even though this may be at a reduced level, during and after an emergency.

The infrastructure chapter contains 12 actions to support these objectives, including:

  • Developing a methodology for assessing impacts on infrastructure assets and the services they provide – to support asset owners to understand and respond to climate risks as part of enterprise risk management.
  • Integrating adaptation into the public investment decision-making processes for infrastructure – to incorporate the full cost of adaptation over the life of an asset.

There are also a number of “system wide” actions that will be very important in supporting infrastructure resilience and adaptive capacity. They include improving access to robust information about climate risks, and ensuring our legislation and institutional arrangements are fit for purpose and provide clear roles and responsibilities. Resource management, three waters, and Civil Defence Emergency Management reform all provide unique opportunities to support building the adaptive capacity of existing assets and ensuring our new assets are fit of a changing climate – for example, embedding adaptation and resilience planning into regional spatial strategies under the new resource management system.

A key action in the National Adaptation Plan is to develop legislation that will address the complex issues associated with managed retreat. This will complete the suite of legislation being developed as part of resource management system reform.

Managing retreat is a carefully planned and managed process of relocating assets, activities, and sites of cultural significance away from at-risk areas.

While most of the planning for managed retreat will be done through mechanisms in the proposed Natural and Built Environments Act and Strategic Planning Act, the new managed retreat legislation will support managed retreats to be implemented once they’ve been planned. This work will help to ensure equity and increase efficiency by establishing a consistent framework for decision-making across the country.  

How can you find out more or provide feedback?

Please take the opportunity to have your say on the National Adaptation Plan. You’ll find the draft Plan and related workshops, videos and other consultation details on the Ministry for the Environment website(external link).

This consultation closes on 3 June.