Learning about the Wharekawa Coast 2120 project and how to communicate about climate change, and gaining a better understanding of the upcoming requirements for financial reporting on climate change risks were some of my highlights from a recent climate change forum hosted by Taituarā.

Wharekawa Coast 2120

Nina Murphy and Whitney Mills from Hauraki District Council and Waikato Regional Council described how they implemented the Dynamic Adaptative Policy Pathways (DAPP) process for the Wharekawa Coast. This area has four communities, 800 residents, and includes the Miranda bird sanctuary. It has experienced 16 major flood events since the 1960s.

Council officers developed a risk assessment for river flooding and coastal inundation and identified what assets are exposed to damage during major and moderate events, including residential buildings, rural land, roads and community facilities.

A key element of the project has been working with a community panel. The original plan was for the community panel to provide feedback on the risk thresholds (the point at which the frequency of flooding and inundation events would become intolerable to the community) but the members felt uneasy making this decision on behalf of the whole community. Instead, further work was carried out to make the hazard information easier to understand, so that members of the community who had not previously been involved in the project could provide informed feedback on how frequently they could cope with a range of moderate and major events. The hazard information included photos of previous events, which told the story of what the community has experienced.

The community panel members contacted residents directly. They did this by knocking on doors and sitting down with residents to go through the information and to record responses to the questions, or by doing a letter drop and returning a few days later. Over a four-week period they gained 83 responses. The council officers stressed the important role of this panel for building the relationship between the councils and the community, and the increased level of engagement that was achieved due to the community members taking the lead role.

Then the regional council analysed the results to determine a ‘community risk threshold’ – when the frequency of the impacts would not be tolerable for the community (if a particular type of event happened every 200, 100, 75, 50, 10 or 2 years).

This provides a timeframe by when actions will be need to be taken to manage the impacts of these types of events. You can find more details about this project on the Wharekawa Coast 2120 website, and here’s a link to my summary of the DAPP process (which was developed by the Ministry for the Environment).

Talking about climate change

Marianne Elliott (co-director of The Workshop) gave a presentation on engaging with the community about climate change. She recommended focusing efforts on the people who are already on board with the need for action related to climate change, as well as the ‘persuadables’ – the bulk of the community, who do not have strong opinions on the topic so will be open to your messages.

Don’t spend time communicating with people in the community who have very fixed ideas on climate change, such as denial that climate change is real. ‘Myth busting’ isn’t effective because of the way our brains work – we will remember the ideas that are being disputed rather than the arguments being made against them.

In addition, if we evoke people’s fears about climate change, it is natural for them to reach for simple solutions – which is not ideal when considering complex but solvable problems.

The following resources on talking about climate change are available on The Workshop website:  ‘how to talk about climate change a cheat sheet 2019’, and ‘how to talk about climate change a short guide 2019’ and ‘how to talk about climate change a toolkit for encouraging collective action 2019’.

Financial reporting on climate change risks

Mark Siebentritt of Edge Environment discussed emerging requirements for councils and other organisations to report on climate change-related risks. A key reference point is the Taskforce for Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) which has developed expectations of how climate risks are disclosed.

Three different issues need to be considered in climate risk disclosure – physical risks (natural hazards), transition risks (to a low carbon economy) and governance (how we factor climate change into our decision making – because if we don’t get this right, action doesn’t happen).

Under TCFD, the evidence base for climate risk assessments becomes more important. Mark referred to ‘A guide to local climate change risk assessments’ prepared by the Ministry for the Environment’s as a valuable foundation for climate change planning, as this is aligned with the ISO standard on adaptation to climate change.

Up until now, 90% of the focus has been on reporting physical risks, but transition risks also need more attention – such as economic losses, stranded assets and inaccurate valuations. (These types of risks should be based on the policy setting of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5oC.)

It’s likely that councils’ organisational risk registers and climate risk assessments will need to be integrated in one report in future.

About the Emissions Reduction Plan

Markus Benter-Lynch of Tonkin+Taylor advised that the most significant sections of the Emissions Reduction Plan for the local government sector are: chapter 7 (planning and infrastructure) which has a focus on building up and not out; chapter 10 (transport); and chapter 15 (waste) which focuses on separate collection and treatment of organic waste.

Summing up

Key messages from the forum:

  • Councils can’t address climate change issues within the four walls of the office – the wider community needs to be involved in decision making, following a DAPP process. This creates a tension between the need to act urgently and the need to slow down enough to enable the community to be involved throughout the planning process.
  • It can be challenging to make complex risk assessments easy to understand without losing the science.
  • Coming back to the comment about when we feel fearful it’s hard to come up with well-considered solutions to complex problems (as noted by Marianne Elliott), councils need to begin with a wider discussion about the values and issues related to an area, and be prepared to address other issues that arise during those conversations rather than jumping straight into a focus on the physical risks associated with climate change.
  • The DAPP process is a starting point, but councils need to be willing to adapt their project plans to meet the needs of their communities. These won’t be tidy projects to manage, as they will have the potential for time and cost overruns. There may also be some ongoing uncertainty about the resource consent implications and sources of funding for agreed adaptation measures.

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