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Blog Post February

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

"We've got to be ready" says the man with the dog.

Are you prepared for climate change?

By Isobel Bruun-Kiaer

Last week, a local resident out walking his dog told me in passing why Tauranga needed to be prepared for a significant tsunami event…

"if there's a big earthquake out in the Pacific, we could be underwater in 50 minutes" he enlightens me, matter-of-factly.

I'm taking a photo (above) of a Tsunami evacuation map by the beach, he knows I'm not local, and I tell him I think these maps are great, really visual…

"We've got to be ready, it could happen anytime. So, we're prepared." he adds

I'm blown away. Unprompted, the local community here is educating visitors about building resilience and preparedness for natural disasters, despite a low probability of them occurring.

What I'm looking at are the Tsunami information boards which stretch along the Mount Maunganui coastline. These maps plan for up to a one in >2500 year event: meaning the likelihood of the yellow area in the maps being inundated would be once every 2500 years or more.  


Source: Tauranga City Council

In true planner mode, I'm thrilled. They're colourful, simple, spatial, and relateable – you can tell whether your house would be in the danger zone and where you'd need to evacuate to. And, the man with the dog is highlighting that local residents are passing on the message. They're informed and proud of it. They're in the know.

So, what does this tsunami preparedness have to do with climate change?

Tauranga's planning for tsunami is based on the understanding that "these sized events are possible" (Bay of Plenty Regional Council 2013 rather than a certainty of when or where they will happen. To me, this highlights 2 things:

1. You can model and plan for hazards (climate change impacts) where there is high uncertainty
2. There is power and value in community understanding and awareness

These are key ingredients in building resilient places.

Building resilience to climate change – what does it mean?

In the face of climate change, the umbrella term 'resilience' brings together the two well known concepts of disaster risk and sustainability.

As the Royal Society's diagram below shows, planning for future growth without planning for future climate can create additional and unnecessary exposure to risk, exacerbating the impacts of climate change, by increasing vulnerability.


Understanding resilience: Hazard + Vulnerability + Exposure

Source: The Royal Society, 2014

On the flip side, however, by planning for resilience, spatial planning provides local government with opportunities to establish long-term resilience that can address the needs of people and places not just today, but for a changing climate looking 50 and 100 years ahead.

This brings us back to the tsunami example. Although there is uncertainty around the impacts of climate change, you can begin to build the foundations for resilience by having an understanding of

1. the possible impacts and effects of climate change
2. the degree of risk that these individual impacts present
3. the interaction of these risks with existing and future development, and,
4.  an understanding of vulnerability in the area

The tsunami example also shows that, the communication and phrasing of disaster risk (climate change inpacts) and resilience during community engagement, stakeholder engagement, and policymaking can shape the practical effectiveness of local resilience strategies. You either bring residents along wiith you, or you don't. The real value lies in having a coordinated response, with the community on board.

Summing up…

The impacts of climate change are certainly less tangible and more difficult to communicate to the public than the catastrophic impacts of a tsunami. But, what the man with the dog has proven to me is the power in residents spreading the word to newcomers about local risks, despite scientific uncertainty.

The way that Tauranga has successfully planned for tsunami risk and resilience sheds light on the possibilities for planning for climate change. Resilience is about change - the ability to respond and adapt – but it's success is intrinsically tied to the lived understanding of place: one's local knowledge and understanding of the local situation. For this, communities need to be kept in the loop on planning for climate change resilience because it's success rests upon more than just scientific understanding. 

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