Northland wins first New Zealand-wide local government climate change adaptation strategy

The Whangārei City Basin is one of many parts of Northland’s coastline that will be at risk from the impacts of climate change in the future. Photo / Susan Botting.

Northland is the first place in New Zealand to have a region-wide climate change adaptation strategy, with 70 cities and towns in Northland expected to be significantly impacted by coastal flooding, erosion and permanent flooding due to sea level rise.

The Te Tai Tokerau Climate Adaptation Strategy was officially adopted by Whangārei District Council (WDC) and Kaipara District Council (KDC) last week. The Far North District Council (FNDC) and the Northland Regional Council (NRC) adopted the strategy earlier this month. WDC has already declared a climate emergency.

Chair of Northland’s Joint Climate Change Adaptation Committee, Amy Macdonald, said the strategy was a living document, updated as new science – such as new elevation data sea ​​level data published for New Zealand this week – are coming at your fingertips.

It underpins the individual council mahi of Northland with 195,000 people on almost 14,000 km2 and 3,200 km of coastline.

“This strategy represents a first step by Northland Councils towards a region-wide collaborative response to the impacts of climate change. We are already living with the effects of a changing climate, and many communities in Te Tai Tokerau are using their own resources .and networks to develop preparedness and adaptation plans,” Macdonald said.

Around 70 cities and towns in Northland are expected to be significantly affected by coastal flooding, erosion and permanent flooding from sea level rise over the next 100 years and beyond.

Amy Macdonald, Northland's climate change adaptation leader, at the Whangārei City Basin, where coastal hazard mapping shows the area will be underwater within a century
Amy Macdonald, Northland’s climate change adaptation leader, at the Whangārei City Basin, where coastal hazard mapping shows the area will be underwater within a century

The strategy grew out of multi-year, cross-council collaborative work by the Joint Region Staff-level Climate Adaptation Committee and the Te Tai Tokerau Governance-level Climate Adaptation Groups, in collaboration with representatives of the hapū and the iwi. It can be viewed at www.catt.org.nz

Macdonald said the next steps would be Northland councils applying it to their respective climate change adaptation work, some of which had already begun. A key consideration was who could pay for climate adaptation work in the region.

The strategy, demonstrating a joint local government approach, would help address this issue through council long-term plan budgeting. It was also strategically important for government funding for climate adaptation.

Northland coastal infrastructure such as this road from Hokianga is under severe threat from rising sea levels. Photo/Susan Botting
Northland coastal infrastructure such as this road from Hokianga is under severe threat from rising sea levels. Photo/Susan Botting

Key issues, responses and opportunities for adaptation have been addressed by the strategy after climate change risks raised by iwi and hapū, local government politicians, council staff and the community.

It provides a local framework to address existing concerns that are expected to grow in the future. It includes a municipal action plan with 46 priority actions and supporting technical information.

“Through this strategy, Northland and tangata whenua councils build on these [community] plans, seeking integration and alignment across the region and working to create meaningful partnerships to help us all adapt together,” Macdonald said.

Omapere's Freese Park - is already experiencing major coastal erosion issues, which are expected to increase in coming decades due to climate change.  Photo / Susan Botting
Omapere’s Freese Park – is already experiencing major coastal erosion issues, which are expected to increase in coming decades due to climate change. Photo / Susan Botting

“What do our communities need to effectively adapt to the impacts of our changing climate? What can councils do to support local initiatives? Where are the areas… most at risk, who are the most vulnerable? ripple effects should we expect?

“This strategy is the foundation that defines our commitment to act, to align with our communities, to listen, understand and work together. We expect the strategy to evolve and actions to change as this kaupapa adaptation progresses and as our understanding grows,” Macdonald said.

“How does kaupapa climate change fit into the tangata whenua whakaaro, and how can councils incorporate and honor this whakaaro in future planning cycles? Northland and tangata whenua at the same table to develop this strategy was an important first step.”

The impact of flooding will be worse in areas such as the main access road from Panguru to Mitimiti, this bridge over the Waihou River will be impacted, the strategy warns.  Photo / Susan Botting
The impact of flooding will be worse in areas such as the main access road from Panguru to Mitimiti, this bridge over the Waihou River will be impacted, the strategy warns. Photo / Susan Botting

The strategy highlighted that flooding, coastal erosion, storm surges and regular tidal flooding can disproportionately affect Maori communities. He said many Maori communities, particularly in the Far North, are on coastal floodplains and several marae are expected to be affected by coastal hazards. Farming communities are also expected to be heavily impacted due to large tracts of agricultural and horticultural land located in low-lying coastal floodplains.

A Te Ao Māori climate change decision-making framework is being developed. The strategy said the impacts of climate change could disproportionately impact Maori.

“It is likely that there will be impacts to cultural infrastructure such as marae and urupā, places of food gathering such as mahinga mataitai and places of cultural significance such as wāhi tapu and archaeological sites. “, says the report.

Flat farmland close to sea level near Waireia, north of Hokianga, is at risk, according to Northland's Coastal Hazard Mapping.  Photo / Susan Botting
Flat farmland close to sea level near Waireia, north of Hokianga, is at risk, according to Northland’s Coastal Hazard Mapping. Photo / Susan Botting

“Hapū reports that the ngā atua realms are degraded, the mauri has been destroyed, and there is potential for adverse environmental, cultural and social effects,” the strategy states.

Currently, local government decision-making does not give enough voice to the specific needs of tanga whenua. »

Northland Te Tai Tokerau Joint Climate Change Adaptation Committee Vice-Chair Delaraine Armstrong (Te Orewai hapū of Ngāti Hine) said the start of this work in Tai Tokerau reflects a desire to address inequalities between tangata whenua and dominant worldviews. Much more resources were needed to build capacity and capacity with tangata whenua, communities and the workforce.

“The rhetoric of tangata whenua involvement needs to be genuinely activated and supported. However, this responsibility does not just fall on non-Maori. Tangata whenua needs to enter the space we demand and provide clear guidance and options structural for a new framework to work with the guidance,” Armstrong said.

The Mitimiti marae and church are at risk of flooding due to sea level rise in future NRC coastal hazard mapping shows.  Photo / Susan Botting
The Mitimiti marae and church are at risk of flooding due to sea level rise in future NRC coastal hazard mapping shows. Photo / Susan Botting

Impacts on municipal infrastructure are also mentioned. Road networks in areas such as Hokianga, which are located on the edges of estuaries, are expected to be affected by sea level rise.

Higher tidal limits mean the impact of river flooding is amplified, with more days when roads are impassable in areas such as Panguru and Punaruku where it is already happening.

The recent WDC vote to adopt the first New Zealand strategy was 8 to 6, the KDC vote saw seven of the nine council councilors present vote 6 to 1 in favor of its adoption. It was adopted unanimously by the FNDC and the NRC.

The Kohukohu Fire Station is among the assets that will lie underwater due to river and coastal flooding over the next 100 years in the Northland Regional Council's hazard mapping.  Photo / Susan Botting
The Kohukohu Fire Station is among the assets that will lie underwater due to river and coastal flooding over the next 100 years in the Northland Regional Council’s hazard mapping. Photo / Susan Botting

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