NZ’s first NCCRA: What does it mean for our built environment?
The NCCRA is a national overview of how New Zealand may be affected by climate change-related hazards. It identifies the main risks and opportunities, highlights information gaps, and helps identify where the Government needs to focus its action. It also provides a very useful resource for Councils and asset owners on risks they should be focussing on. The risk assessment will be used to develop a National Adaptation Plan over the next two years. The plan will outline what we need to do to prepare for the risks.
The risk assessment grouped risks according to five value domains: the human domain, natural environment domain, economy domain, built environment domain and governance domain. While many of the risks are interlinked, these groupings are useful, as they help identify risk ‘owners’ – i.e. those who have a role in managing the risk over time.
The built environment risks are of particular relevance to the infrastructure sector, and the eight priority risks are listed below.
As can be seen many of these risks relate to water – and there being either “too much” (leading to flooding and erosion) or “too little” of it (leading to drought).
Extreme flood events are projected to increase around NZ, with estimates of up to an 11% increase in the 1 hour duration storm by 2040, and up to 34% increase by 2090. Ongoing sea level rise also contributes significantly to both coastal and inland flooding, exacerbating coastal storm tides, which in turn leads to more frequent and severe inundation of coastal areas. It is estimated that by 2040, extreme sea levels that are expected to be reached only once every 100 years (on average) at present-day mean sea levels, will occur at least annually (on average) by 2050–70 (Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, 2014)[i].
A key risk is that of drought, which will impact on potable water supplies throughout NZ. Recent droughts have had major impacts on water supplies around NZ – particularly those in Auckland and Northland. Water NZ’s Annual Performance Reviews indicate that since 2014, around 50% of Councils (on average) report that they have implemented some form of water restriction. This is a significant proportion, and underlines the seriousness of this risk to Councils and communities. This is further complicated by the fact that water supply systems in many Councils are underfunded, and a number of supplies do not have household metering. This significantly inhibits the ability to effectively manage leakage and demand levels.
These flood and drought related risks currently pose major challenges for communities, Councils, and infrastructure utilities, and these challenges will grow over time if not addressed soon. These challenges also include the ability to retain insurance, and how the relevant institutions are governed. One of the key governance risks identified within the NCCRA was that climate change impacts are exacerbated because current institutional arrangements are not fit for adaptation – with this including legislative and decision-making frameworks, coordination within and across levels of government, and funding mechanisms.
Responding to the Challenge
Councils and infrastructure owners should, however, take some comfort that these issues are now well and truly ‘on the radar’. The release of the NCCRA provides a very useful starting point to enable Councils to begin to understand their own risks regionally, and develop plans to adapt and respond to these.
It is important that Councils and infrastructure owners take a strategic approach to planning for climate risk, and embed climate change considerations into the way they do business. This is summarised in the diagram below - and includes planning (assessing and understanding risks and vulnerabilities), acting and observing/adjusting as required.
Figure 1. A strategic approach to climate adaptation
We have also put together a range of high-level principles, that we think are useful when responding to and managing climate risks. These are summarised below and cover approaches to climate risk assessments, decision-making and long-term thinking, collaboration, stewardship and kaitiakitanga, and prioritising actions with multiple benefits.
Climate change risk, adaptation and mitigation is now a central consideration for all actors within the ‘built environment’. The NCCRA has shed light on key risks for NZ, and provides a useful framework and head start for regions and sectors to understand and begin to manage risks relevant to their interests. This, along with the Zero Carbon Act reporting power, and the proposed Mandatory Climate-Related Risk Disclosure scheme, all provide added incentive for Councils and infrastructure utilities to respond, and ensure that they are contributing to a resilient future for their communities.
You can read the NCCRA report, including the 43 risk areas on the Ministry for the Environment’s website. If you would like to discuss this some more, please reach out by email and I will get back in touch with you.
[i] Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. 2014. Changing climate and rising seas:
Understanding the science. Wellington: Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. Retrieved
[ii] Hughes, J., Cowper-Heays, K., Olesson, E., Bell, R., & Stroombergen, A. (2019) Stormwater, wastewater and climate change: Impacts on our economy, culture and society. Deep South Science Challenge