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Councils find holes in climate response

Masterton district councillor Chris Peterson speaking at schools strike for climate in 2018. PHOTO/FILE

Local Government New Zealand has found holes in central government’s “adaptation armour” and are looking for ways to make short term change.

Masterton district councillor Chris Peterson said not enough was being done by any council in the country or governments worldwide.

Peterson was a supporter of Extinction Rebellion, a movement he said was about pressing for change and rebelling against the status quo if change was not made.

“My dream is that Wairarapa could become leaders for rural New Zealand on this,” he said.

“They say no change is linear, it’s always exponential. We’ve seen significant movement over the last little while. There are lots of international reports coming out saying the situation is urgent and serious.

“I’d like everybody to go harder and go faster, but I think that the key to that is greater awareness and understanding in the community.”

Peterson said once the community realised the enormity of climate crisis, council would respond.

“Councils have an obligation to lead as well,” he said.

Peterson said council’s action reflected where the community was at and change would need to happen at all levels, including education and housing, to mitigate climate crisis into the future.

An LGNZ spokesperson said over 170 scientists, researchers, local government elected members and officials gathered at its Climate Change Adaptation Symposium to discuss “uncovered gaps in New Zealand’s adaptation policy”.

Discussions canvassed how the sector could find shared interim solutions while awaiting the government’s impending resource management reform.

Significant areas of discussion included gaps in adaptation policy, decision-making in uncertain times and Maori approaches to climate change adaptation.

Other hot topics were scientific adaptation efforts concerning flood mapping and access to river data, and how a new report on how Land Information Memoranda changes could better communicate hazard information.

“Local government has always seen itself on the frontline in the battle against the effects of climate change, whether it is from the angle of mitigation or adaptation,” said LGNZ vice-president and Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall, who was a keynote speaker.

McDouall said council’s role in fighting climate change was “confirmed by the Climate Change Commission in its draft report, which is why we have pulled together leading thinkers to help shape our actions on the ground, and around the council table.”

Peterson said Climate Change Commission’s recommendations would push government into actualised action and hold it to account.

McDouall said the symposium had been an opportunity to look at the existing tools.

“The resources we have or the legislation we act under – and as a group try and figure out what we need from the upcoming climate change adaptation and resource management reform,” he said.

“The difference with this symposium was that a huge number of on-the-ground action-takers were in attendance.

“They live and breathe the work of protecting people from natural hazards. They’re the people delivering resilient infrastructure, engaging with communities, making decisions and doing the modelling on the increasing array of severe weather events exacerbated by climate change,” McDouall said.

The publication of LGNZ’s LIM report “detailed just how difficult it is for councils to get hold of fit-for-purpose tool that can inform better decision-making on adapting to climate change”, the spokesperson said.

“The LIM Report is a microcosm of the policy challenge that local government faces,” McDouall said.

“We were interested in whether a new LIM template could be a good way to disclose natural hazard information in the short term, before the new resource management reform kicks in.”

LGNZ’s spokesperson said the report showed 20th-century tools were not fit for 21st-century challenges.

“That sets a clear direction for policymakers – we need to stop tinkering around the edges and develop new tools to tackle a monumental issue like climate change.

“Yes, the resource management reforms process is a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done if we’re to tackle this problem head-on.”

McDouall said climate change was a national issue and needed national legislation and funding tools to address it.

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