Submission on Draft Climate Adaptation Plan

Limits to adaptive capacity

The risks identified in the Draft Plan are so numerous and compounding that it is obvious that climate change effects will exceed our ability to adapt. This fact is most overtly shown in the section dealing with “the seven economic risks and their cascading impacts across the economy”. That only the ‘top ten’ of forty-three risks identified in the National Climate Change Risk Assessment 2020 are addressed in detail further indicates the overwhelming magnitude of climate change and related effects. There is some acknowledgement of this in the introduction by the Chair of the Climate Change Chief Executives’ Board — “More change will come and impacts will increase, disrupting nature and society, affecting people’s health and wellbeing and damaging livelihoods.” It is not so clearly acknowledged that some of this disruption and damage will be irreparable and/or unforeseen. Much of the response will be purely reactive. While it is certain that “We need to change how we do things..” this is so we can survive rather than “..thrive in a climate that that continues to change.”

Emissions cost of adaptive actions

There is no mention in the Plan of the emissions which would be incurred by many adaptive actions. Activities such as infrastructure upgrades and defensive earthworks are highly emissions intensive. Despite the best adaptive planning there will also inevitably be increasing requirements for urgent remedial action. At present, the financial cost of such responses is regularly reported but the emissions cost is not. The Plan makes no mention of such costs although these will materially affect our overall emissions. In the situation of a scientifically informed and politically agreed emissions budget this is a curious oversight.

Conflict between property rights & preservation of Nature

In the matter of managed retreat there is a particular point of difficulty that is implied but not openly addressed. This is the problem of allowing for landward migration of coastal ecosystems such as saltmarshes where there is privately-owned land, possibly with buildings, in the places where such migration must occur. Although it is conceivable that property owners will accept that they must abandon land and homes that are at risk of damage from sea-level rise, it is less likely that they will be quite prepared to make way for Nature. Unless this point is addressed by such a mechanism as compulsory purchase as has been employed for the purposes of essential public infrastructure, these critical habitats and their biodiversity will be lost. The intent to pursue such a course of action should be signalled early in the complex discussions around managed retreat. Although coastal ecosystems are a particularly important case, this conflict between property rights and Nature preservation and enhancement is a general issue of long standing which will be amplified by adaptation to climate change.

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Pacific Ecologist magazine

Published by the Pacific Institute of Resource Management