Aotearoa’s national adaptation plan

This Issue This is a part of the Adapting to climate change feature

By - , Build 196

While the release of the first national adaptation plan sets a path forward as to how to develop resilience to climate change, it could be more inclusive of the construction industry and consider the impact of climate change on human behaviour.

Aotearoa New Zealand has recently experienced the impact of our changing climate. The devastation caused by Cyclone Gabrielle and the associated flooding and storm damage in Te Matau-a-Māui Hawke’s Bay, Tairawhiti Gisborne, Te Tara-o-te-Ika a Māui Coromandel Peninsula and Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland illustrate that climate change is here now and already impacting our communities.

The IPCC’s 2023 report highlighted that rising greenhouse gas emissions due to human actions have created a rise in global surface temperature that was 1.09°C [0.95°–1.20°C] higher in 2011–2020 than 1850–1900.

Uncertainties that must be addressed

While changing the way we do things to emit less greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming is a critical step, we must also accept that there are uncertainties that come from our changing climate that must be addressed. In response to these, Te Kāwanatanga o Aotearoa | New Zealand Government undertook a national climate change risk assessment in 2020.

Released in 2022, Urutau, ka taurikura: Kia tū pakari a Aotearoa i ngā huringaāhuarangi | Adapt and thrive: Building a climate-resilient New Zealand outlines the government’s first of six national adaptation plans in response to the national climate change risk assessment and aims to set out a plan to help build resilience and adapt to our changing climate.

Purpose and priorities of the NAP

The purpose of the first national adaptation plan (NAP) is to enable New Zealanders to prepare for and adapt to the impacts of climate change with three goals outlined:

  • Reduce vulnerability to the impacts of climate change.
  • Enhance adaptative capacity and consider climate change in decisions at all levels.
  • Strengthen resilience to climate change.

The NAP is structured around four key priorities:

  • Enabling better risk-informed decisions.
  • Driving climate-resilient development in the right places.
  • Laying the foundations for a range of adaptation options, including managed retreat.
  • Embedding climate resilience across government policy.
  • While the construction sector is involved in all the outcome areas, our buildings – past, current and future stock – are at significant risk due to extreme weather events – drought, increased fire weather and ongoing sea-level rise.

As the NAP highlights, ‘About 675,000 (or one in seven) people across Aotearoa live in areas that are prone to flooding, which amounts to over $100 billion worth of residential buildings. Over 72,000 people live in areas at risk of storm surges.’

Further, most existing buildings and those currently under construction are located or built to perform under existing climate conditions rather than future climates. For example, warmer weather might have the potential to affect the durability of building materials, which has implications for the whole-of-life emissions of buildings.

We also need to consider the damage climate change could do to existing housing stock within the context of our housing supply, which is already under considerable pressure. This could further exacerbate mental health issues within our building sector due to high workloads and financial pressures.

Government must collaborate with the sector

The first NAP does set out a clear pathway forward and the building and construction industry has a key role to play in helping to implement it. Government needs to work with the industry to use our expertise and experience – for example, by collaborating through the Construction Sector Accord and initiatives like the BRANZ Transition to a zero-carbon built environment research programme to help address the risks of climate change.

Through the Building Research Levy BRANZ has partnered with WSP to review the Building Code in relation to wind and climate change. We are also partnering with Build Back Better to understand the climate change risk and impacts for marae. BRANZ is also undertaking work to understand material durability within our changing climate until 2100. Despite this great work, more still needs to be done.

Missing elements

There are some missing key actions within the NAP that are needed to help support the implementation of the plan. First is the skills needs of the sector in driving change towards adaptation. Without support to help upskill industry competencies and knowledge to address climate change, the industry will be unable to implement many of the actions outlined in the NAP.

Skills are those learned at the beginning of a career and those developed across the career. This is a current priority within BRANZ with research well under way with key collaboration partners ConCOVE and Waihunga Ara Rau to address this issue.

Behaviour change needs to be included

There is also a need to create greater insight into human behaviour and behaviour change within the NAP. Although legislation, policy and guidance will influence behaviours to some degree, the NAP would also benefit from more specific actions around behaviour change. Research undertaken in the UK by AECOM highlighted 86 different behaviours that could influence a response to climate change adaptation. These behaviours enable decreases in sensitivity to the impacts of climate change and, in some cases, increased adaptive capacity.

However, some behaviours are also maladaptive to risk such as climate risks and hazards impacting mental health and wellbeing. The main behaviours identified in the UK study were grouped under:

  • hazard reduction
  • vulnerability reduction
  • preparedness for response
  • coping during crisis
  • preparedness for recovery.

Understanding these behaviours is critical to better inform how they interrelate and influence climate risk. Similarly, decision-makers can use insights about human behaviour to inform how larger-scale policies or projects can be best designed to complement local adaptation strategies.

Greater understanding of human behaviour can influence the success of the NAP’s implementation and can provide more cultural context to understand why people do the things they do. Further, understanding behaviour in relation to climate change adaptation can also highlight the underlying factors that drive people to take adaptive action or not, which can be leveraged to incentivise adaptation.

The built environment and the natural environment are part of one ecosystem, and it is critical that we also provide an understanding of human behaviour with the NAP. As this is flexible and adaptable, there are traits and practices the government needs to encourage and facilitate if New Zealand is to adapt successfully to climate change.

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