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Making lemonade out of the Paris Agreement on climate change

30 January 2017 Author: Isobel Brunn-Kiaer

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Leveraging local action on climate change in New Zealand

Around the world, towns and cities are facing the risks of more frequent storm events, rising sea levels, and increasing temperatures. It is up to planners working at the local level to figure out how to balance the risks of these impacts with future development and climate vulnerability.

Acting on climate change is daunting. It's a challenge. And, there is uncertainty involved. But, climate change is happening: we can't just sit and twiddle our thumbs until someone tells us what to do. The time for action is now.


I have been in New Zealand for 1 month and it has been refreshing to see and hear how climate change is embraced here as an opportunity for innovation – a way to promote new technology, test new ideas, and work more closely between different levels of government and with the private sector.

"Our response to climate change can inspire innovation, generate new markets, lead to better air quality, clean energy, and the opportunity to build greener homes, businesses and cities. It requires us to plan well, adapt, and move together towards a low-emissions and climate-resilient economy."

NZ Ministry for Environment 2016

With over 80% of New Zealand's electricity already coming from renewable energy sources, and the country's renowned environmental planning framework, one might assume there was little drive to do more. Instead, what I've seen is the a flurry of activity on planning for, and acting on, climate change, nationally and locally being driven by the 2016 COP21 Paris Agreement.

Nationally, the stage is being set for more progressive action with new legislation on issues such as electric vehicles. Locally, planning teams in regional, sub-regional and local governments are coming together to pool resources, problem solve and define the scale of future climate hazards. Often behind the scenes.

So, with climate risks being identified, opportunities highlighted and partnerships being struck how does this combine to produce a climate-resilient response?

Climate-resilience must become an element in the decisions and processes of other local political priorities such as planning for growth, infrastructure improvement and policy development. It's about prioritising climate change in decision-making, it's about behaviour.

Steven _n _maher - Storm Approaching The Town Of Mount Maunganui -2

Storm approaching Mount Maunganui, New Zealand. Source: Creative commons; Steven Maher (https://www.flickr.com/photos/steven_maher/11579458394/in/photolist-iDeKyo/ )

In the face of climate change the way that planners and other professions work, and collaborate, is important. Resilience is more than just understanding risk, it's about transforming how roles and responsibilities might change within local government to account for changes in climate. The organisation Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) are advocating the need for this and supporting local authorities going forward.

So, when climate change gives you lemons, and the Paris Agreement provides a way to make lemonade, New Zealand seems to be grasping the opportunity with both hands.

With support from the RTPI's George Pepler International Award, I'm setting out to research how local government in New Zealand is building climate resilience in this post-Paris context.

Working closely with Tauranga City Council in the Bay of Plenty region I'll be looking into how local government in New Zealand is using climate change as an opportunity for innovation, new solutions, and new partnerships. Long term and spatial planning is at the heart of building long term climate-resilience, so what are the building blocks in achieving this?

Isobel is the 2016/2017 George Pepler International Award winner. Her project is entitled Building the Path to Climate Resistance: A study into the role of spatial planning in paving the way to resilience to climate change in the city of Tauranga, New Zealand. You can read Isobel's blog here.

Isobel Brunn-Kiaer

Isobel Brunn-Kiaer

Isobel Brunn-Kiaer is the 2016/2017 George Pepler International Award recipient.