Getting ready for the natural hazards of climate change

  • David Parker
Climate Change Issues

Address to the Hazards Management conference
9.35am, 29 July 2008, Te Papa, Wellington


It gives me great pleasure to open this conference on Hazards Management.
I would particularly like to welcome those overseas visitors. I note we have visitors not only from across the Tasman, but from as far away as the United States and the UK. Welcome to New Zealand. It’s excellent to have a broad range of international participation at these conferences, as we can all learn from each others’ experiences. 

I’d also like to welcome you to Te Papa, our National museum.
It is quite fitting to have a hazards conference here. Not only does the museum house the “awesome forces” exhibition – a display on natural hazards - the building itself has some unique features. You might have noticed that there are no exhibits on the ground floor. This is one of the measures designed to protect the museum’s treasures, in case of a tsunami. Also this building features base isolators – designed to lessen the impact of earthquakes. It’s good to see evidence of detailed planning for the impacts of hazards in such an iconic place.

This second Australasian Hazards Management Conference follows a successful series of seven New Zealand-based hazard conferences held over the years that had the theme of “science to practice.” These conferences have showcased the great work being done in linking researchers and practitioners to integrate hazard information into effective risk management.

In planning for the future, one important component to contemplate is the impacts that climate change is likely to have, particularly for flooding and coastal hazards.

Climate change is expected to exacerbate the hazards we face. As we move on into the 21st century, changes in our climate are likely to lead to more intense rain and wind events during storms, more frequent serious droughts on top of general changes in temperature and rainfall patterns.
We need to prepare for the risks and opportunities climate change poses.

Indeed in New Zealand we are required by law to respond to the challenges climate change presents whenever we are undertaking activities covered by both the Resource Management Act and the Civil Defence and Emergency Management Act. The RMA requires that “particular regard be given to the effects of climate change”. For Civil Defence and Emergency Management, the Strategy recognises that we need to consider “the implications of climate change”.

Today I am pleased to announce the release of two climate change publications from the Ministry for the Environment, that will help stakeholders come to grips with climate change implications for their sector.

The first is “Preparing for climate Change”. This publication is a synopsis of the technical report “Climate Change Effects and Impacts Assessment”, released earlier this year.

It highlights the most up-to-date projections on how New Zealand’s climate will change in the future. It provides detail on the changes expected in the patterns of temperature and rainfall, both regionally around the country, but also from season to season. It also provides estimates of the increases expected in heavy rainfall. “Preparing for Climate Change” demonstrates how to incorporate climate change information into local government regulatory, asset management and planning processes.

The second publication is the “Coastal Hazards and Climate Change Guidance Manual”. While the Coastal Manual highlights a wide range of coastal hazard issues, the major issue it considers is the advice on planning for sea level rise.

With many of the world’s cities built by the ocean, sea level rise is an important issue in climate change. However, the science in this area can’t yet provide precise answers as to the absolute value of the sea levels expected, say, by the end of the century. Consequently, we must consider the risk from a range of sea level rise values. The manual advises we should plan for a base level of 50 centimetres by the end of the century, but also consider the risks posed by sea level rises in excess of 80 centimetres.

You will get an opportunity to discuss the content of the manual at a workshop on Coastal Hazards and Climate Change being held later this week in conjunction with this conference. The workshop is a chance to ask experts detailed questions, and to consider the hazards implications and responses in depth. I invite you read the manual, look at the sea level rise advice closely, consider it carefully, and act on it.

The government recognises the importance of providing information such as that release in these manuals today. By acting prudently now to plan for the future, we can avoid much greater costs later on.

These publications are part of a wide spectrum of initiatives the government is working on, both to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, and to prepare our communities for climate change which is unavoidable.

On the mitigation side, we have an Energy Strategy to get us to 90 percent renewable electricity by 2025. We aim to be carbon neutral in both the transport and energy sectors by 2040. And we are investing heavily in research and development to crack the issue of agricultural emissions, especially from livestock, which presents a particular challenge for New Zealand.
Central to all this is the development of an emissions trading scheme which will be world-leading in its inclusion of all sectors of the economy – energy, industry, transport, agriculture, waste and forestry.

Climate change presents a particularly broad challenge for governments, and for the world. We cannot ignore it and hope it goes away. It will affect the lives of millions of people, but the impacts can be lessened with forethought, good information, and careful planning. That is why the work you are doing to help future-proof our communities is so important.

I wish you well for your conference and for your stay in Wellington.