Climate Change: It's our choice whether we react or adapt

Newspaper Published Source 2020-10-18 Link

OPINION: The effects of global warming are apparent now, which are escalating in frequency and intensity. Record wildfires are raging in the West Coast of the USA, while the record hurricane season is hammering the south and east. We have had our Pigeon Valley Fire and experienced the coloured skies from last summer's Aussie fires . Many of our climate impacts are more subtle, with many events now having a climate change fingerprint on them, which may not cause the droughts, fires and storms, but makes them more likely and more intense. READ MORE: * A glimpse into hell: How firefighters battled Nelson's massive wildfires - and won * Soil stabilisers applied to Pigeon Valley fire area * The long, blue line * Marlborough puts climate change front and centre * Climate change: Dunedin is in trouble, but NZ just watches on This pandemic and recent earthquakes have taught us the consequences of poor preparedness, resulting in costly reaction scrambling. What can we do? We need to do two things now, rapidly reduce our emissions to reduce climate change and start adapting. Adaptation is not about giving up on emission reductions. It is about adapting to the impacts of climate change from our past emissions and those of the future, on the path to zero emissions. From now on summer months are going to be our high risk times in the Nelson Tasman region. We are in a part of New Zealand that is predicted to get more summer droughts, fires and heat waves. Unfortunately, this is also the time the tropical cyclones come south and King tides occur, which if happening together result in extra high sea level, stormy winds and heavy rain leading to coastal flooding. Make a Regional Plan So the challenge is, how can we make our communities more resilient for these summer disasters, as well as other impacts, acknowledging other parts of the country will also be having problems? We need a nationwide framework with regional plans. A first step was released in August, which largely flew under the radar. The Government published the first National Climate Risk Assessment, which bought together all the research to date on the risks and impacts of climate change to New Zealand. At the top of the list is major threats to drinking water supply, community wellbeing and social unity, economic loss of productivity, risks to indigenous ecosystems and species, cost of disaster relief for increased extreme events and lack of guidance for uncertainty over long time frames. There are many urgent risks having an impact now and will likely have extreme consequences in just 20 years’ time. From this risk assessment, a national adaptation plan will be developed and released within two years, with consultation starting in February. The Government at the same time must quickly develop a Managed Retreat and Adaptation Act with a funding formula for vulnerable landowners and councils. Our councils have been let down by the Government. Local Government New Zealand has called repeatedly for a national framework, clear legislation and funding for adaptation. In the meantime, we have a choice to continue as usual or start considering these risks when making decisions, from where to live to council decisions on infrastructure and community facilities. Every bad decision now will make it harder in the future. This requires courage and leadership at all levels and everyone in our community to back them. We can help our councils start the process of this difficult long term thinking. Such as: When and how to move back from the sea and river floodplains? When and how will the airport and at risk transport routes need to move? How can we reduce our rural fire risk? How can we all save water, farm more regeneratively and build resilient communities where no one is left behind? In particular, proposed council and government projects in harm's way of climate impacts like the rising sea in the next 50 years, should be very carefully scrutinised and challenged. These should only go ahead on safe high and dry locations, and if they build resilience, are moveable or temporary low-cost solutions to give us a bit more time. We also have to do this under a falling carbon budget to comply with our Zero Carbon Act targets. It is a waste of money and carbon emission now, if they have to be moved or demolished in 20 plus years. These are really challenging issues that will only get harder, the longer we take to start confronting them. Get involved and make it happen There are some things households can do as well: update your civil defence supplies, reduce the fire risk to your property and talk to your neighbours about climate change. There are some things only our government can do, and they need the public behind them to do this. More of us need to tell our councils we want them to make adaptation a priority now, don’t leave it up to the activists and advocates. The next chance coming up is the strategic Nelson Plan which is released in early October. Let's support our councils to do the hard work and start this process now, of long term thinking to future-proof our region. Olivia Hyatt PhD is a climate advocate, Jenny Easton is a retired environmental scientist. Both are members of Zero Carbon Nelson Tasman. © 2022 Stuff Limited