Speech to He Kaupapa Hononga (Otago’s Climate Change Research Network) Science-based Policy School

Climate Change

Tēnā koutou katoa.

I’m here today because you’ve asked me to talk about policy directions and opportunities in the areas of mitigation and adaption, in our climate change transition. Plus, how we might collaborate better, to develop science led policy.

First of all, I want to say thank you for acknowledging the significance of both of these key parts of climate change policy: stopping emissions and responding to the effects.

There is a certain crowd who say we should give up on halting climate change. That we should focus entirely on our adaptation response.

We all know what a catastrophic mistake that would be.  We must have both.

If not, we are talking about a death sentence for certain parts of the Pacific. While at home, we already know what warming to 1.1 degrees looks like. Increased storms and floods, and more frequent wildfires. Every tenth of a degree of warming increases the frequency and the severity of these events. And it has only just begun.

Second of all, I’d like to acknowledge the work academia is doing here.

It is heartening that the Government is not working from a standing start. There’s a quiet revolution happening.

Many solutions are already out there. There are many lessons we can learn. There are many lessons we are learning, and that includes from the private sector, matauranga Māori, and overseas.

Take the unprecedented work Fiji is successfully doing in adaption.

With a population of just under 1 million, it is relocating entire villages.

It is successfully answering questions that other governments might not even begin to ask until the next 10 years, 20 years, or even 50 years.

42 villages are being looked at by the Fiji Government for potential relocation. Six villages have already been moved.

In our search for solutions, we must look to people and places where we haven’t looked before. Or that we’ve overlooked.

It is my firm belief that given the extent of the challenge we are facing, everyone must act.

In Government that means every Minister should think as if they were a climate change Minister. In effect, three fifths of Cabinet, already are.

Plus, we need everything you’ve got. Meaning that every policy should be looked at through a climate change lens.

For too long there has been huge political pressure to delay climate action, at the expense of important investments in our future. Both in terms of policy development and funding.

The reason may change, but the refrain remains:

“Now is not the right time.”

Right now, there are those who would still delay climate action, citing rising living costs.

We all know, for some, it is never going to be the right time. But if we can make the case for co-benefits, like improved health, food security, and reduced costs, we will see more change, faster. Let’s also be crystal clear:  it is never, ever going to be cheaper and easier to act than right now.

So today, I am going to concentrate on how we can improve policy areas that effect every day New Zealanders, with a focus on housing adaption.

This is because alleviating the pressures on every day households are ripe for multi-purpose solutions.

Investments in things like insulating thousands of homes nationwide, serves a triple purpose. It tackles climate change, health, and pressures on household budgets at the same time. We must also meet people where they are at.

We know there are distributional impacts of some climate change policy. This is especially the case with policy linked to the price of carbon going up.

So when people ask me why I’m not just focusing on the “green” stuff?

I explain why tackling social issues is so important. Why we need both.

An affordable, warm, healthy, and secure home is a human right. You can’t expect someone to think about protecting nature if they don’t have a proper roof over their head.

So where are the gaps?

Here are some disconcerting statistics:

  • Private rental properties are 3 x more likely to be damp and cold than owner owned homes
  • Of the 1.4 million making rent payments in the year ended June 2021, half of households had a minor or major problem with dampness or mould.
  • Similarly, 31.7 percent of rental households had at least a minor problem keeping adequately warm in winter and 8.9 percent were crowded or severely crowded.

There is also a paucity of some key data. For example, the Government has no idea how many private rentals are Healthy Homes Standard compliant.

So how can we develop science led policy in this area?

We need a big multidisciplinary team, who can bring a lot of different skills and expertise to the problem. Again, I am using the word ‘team’ in its loosest definition. All of us. Plus, we need clear direction and the right resources from the top.

For independent researchers and think tanks there are several roles here. They include:

  • Identifying the problem
  • Exploring linkages in public policy
  • Showing where there might be cost savings
  • Testing and monitoring the proof of concept

Once this is done the Government can step in and do the scaling up.

A good example of this in action, is the work done by Otago University in the public health space.

It picked up the widespread mould problem in New Zealand homes and ran with it.

We need to use similar approaches like this in the climate space.  And that’s where you come in.

I’m going to set you a series of 3 challenges in:

  • Health standards and housing
  • Whole of life design
  • Densification

In housing, considerable progress has been made since damp, mouldy, homes first came into public consciousness.

By reducing the energy needed to heat homes and make hot water, the Government’s Warmer Kiwi Homes policy is massively improving the lives of people living in poor quality homes

It is making them much healthier.

While, the Healthy Homes Standards, aimed at guaranteeing compliance, have been another step forward.

But there is no regulatory checklist of criteria.

And we know that far too many people are still living in cold, damp, and mouldy houses.

This makes families and children sick.

So, my challenge to you here is:

What could we be doing, that we aren’t doing right now in the intersection of the climate, health, and housing policy?

Another part of the climate resilience puzzle in housing, is better whole of life design, and constructing NetZero buildings.

That includes retrofitting and offsite manufacturing. This because it achieves economies of scale and faster build times.

The Government has made a good start here with the Building for Climate Change programme. While, the government public house provider, Kāinga Ora, has kicked off some really informative sustainability projects with some significant wins. For example the ‘Ngā Kāinga Anamata’, public housing innovation pilot, aimed at driving carbon emission reduction in the construction industry. Here focusing on the ‘trifecta’ of:

  • Low carbon materials
  • Operational energy efficient solutions
  • Local renewable energy generation

This has been critical in slashing the buildings’ lifecycle carbon emissions to a fraction of those in a traditional home.

In turn this helps us to understand the overall cost and benefits of low-carbon public housing. But we need more tools in the toolbox to provide incentives for better quality builds, and more research into how achieve more innovation in our building supplies and methods. Things like:

  • How can we drive behaviour change even more quickly?
  • Are there ways to apply solutions that already exist in areas like the energy sector?
  • Or that already exist overseas?
  • Can we look to the private sector for areas of collaboration?
  • Are there efficiencies that can be made in product assembly?
  • Is there anything we can do to support iwi and hapu housing projects and papakainga developments?
  • How do we incentivise full accessibility?

Lastly, we come to density done well, with an emphasis on:

  • Placemaking
  • Access to good public transport links
  • and medium-density design quality

This is all about the need to build for population growth in a way that will sustain our communities, and our environment into the future. This without creating urban sprawl and with the responsibility of addressing systemic inequities. Meanwhile, with competing pressures like:

  • Rising prices
  • Pressure on infrastructure
  • A declining availability of developable land

This is where we can make huge progress. We know that scaling up housing where people already live is the quickest most affordable way to provide new homes where residents can thrive. Modelling shows it can also reduce rent costs. The questions that arise here are:

  • How can we innovate and incentivise outside of regulations?
  • Are there ways to use the current build programme to ensure a reliable supply of homes that can achieve higher standards of sustainability?
  • Could this in turn contribute regional economic benefits?

So, in summary, we know the climate, the environment, our health, and the economy are intertwined.

You as policy developers and researchers have a crucial role to play in tackling climate change.I have asked many questions of you – because you hold many solutions.

You must continue to do what you do best and explore linkages in public policy, help make the case to Government, and highlight cost savings.

We cannot shy away from the need for a fundamental paradigm shift in our thinking. This includes where we look for solutions in mitigation and adaption beyond the obvious. 

We can do this.

Researchers, Government, and the private sector all have a role to play.

We need to work together to find the solutions that may well already be there.

This is our challenge.

No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tatou katoa.