Extreme events are happening more frequently and with increased severity across the globe. The storm that hit Greece, Turkey, and Libya in September 2023 has killed thousands of people. Greece has suffered through wildfires and unprecedented flooding this summer just within weeks of each event.
In New Zealand, the country was hit by the worst storm in recent history. Cyclone Gabrielle devastated part of the country’s North Island in February 2023, with the total damage to infrastructure and properties estimated between NZ$9 billion and NZ$14.5 billion. The tropical cyclone displaced 10,000 people and killed 11 people.
As climate change makes extreme events more frequent and severe, some areas in New Zealand, particularly in coastal and low-lying areas near major rivers, will become too risky to live in. Governments and communities will have to face difficult decisions on investing in costly adaptation measures such as building more seawalls and levees to protect communities or moving them out of the area.
Who will shoulder the cost, whether, when and how to retreat from at-risk places will be an issue that will face vulnerable communities.
A typical approach is to wait until disaster forces people to move out of the area, but this reactive approach is costly. That is why the government is shifting to proactive adaptation through its first National Adaptation Plan, the National Climate Change Risk Assessment, and Resource Management Reforms.
But there are still two significant issues that need to be addressed. First, the country needs an enduring and comprehensive system for a community-led retreat and second, address gaps in adaptation funding.
The significance of these challenges led the Minister for the Environment to ask the Environment Committee to initiate an inquiry into a community-led retreat and adaptation funding. The result of the inquiry will support the development of the proposed Climate Change Adaptation bill.
Recommendations arising from the inquiry would support the development of the proposed Climate Change Adaptation Bill. The NZ’s national adaptation plan includes an action to pass legislation for a retreat in 2022–2024.
Submissions have opened on 25 August and will close on 1 November 2023, inviting everyone to have their say regarding how a community-led managed retreat will look and how to include the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi to ensure that it will work for Māori communities.
The New Zealand Inquiry into Community-Led Retreat and Adaptation Funding is a critical step towards addressing the pressing challenges of climate change. New Zealand is committed to building a resilient and adaptive future by prioritising community-led solutions and exploring funding mechanisms and regulatory frameworks.
As the inquiry progresses, involving all stakeholders and incorporating diverse perspectives must ensure that the resulting strategies are equitable, effective, and sustainable. Ultimately, New Zealand’s proactive approach sets a positive example for climate adaptation action globally and offers hope for a more resilient future for its communities.
Ministry for the Environment. 2023. Community-led retreat and adaptation funding: Issues and options. Wellington: Ministry for the Environment. Retrieved from https://environment.govt.nz/assets/publications/climate-change/Community-led-retreat-Issues-and-options.pdf
Inquiry into community-led retreat and adaptation funding. (2023 August 25). Ministry for the Environment. Retrieved from https://environment.govt.nz/news/inquiry-into-community-led-retreat-and-adaptation-funding/