James Shaw unveils plan for climate-related hazards 'not yet realised'

Infrastructure and coastal areas will be examined based on vulnerability to climate-related hazards in the Government's new framework unveiled by James Shaw. 

Shaw, the Minister for Climate Change, released the National Climate Change Adaptation and Risk Assessment (NCCRA) Framework on Thursday. 

It is part of Shaw's Zero Carbon Bill submitted to Parliament in May, which sets a framework for New Zealand to develop climate change policies, and includes a mandate for undertaking an NCCRA. 

"We're not waiting for the Zero Carbon Bill to pass before we get started," Shaw said. "We've had a team who have developed an incredibly comprehensive and thorough approach to developing the risk assessment." 

The aim of it is to "inform climate change adaptation and mitigation opportunities" so New Zealand can be "resilient and prepared" for the effects of climate change. 

It will look at "significant regional risks", including those that would affect iwi, such as the emergence of sub-tropical pests and diseases and fish species into Northland or receding snowlines and glaciers. 

Infrastructure assets are a large part of the expenditure of local authorities, and will be a major part of the consideration, Shaw, also Greens co-leader, said. 

"Infrastructure hangs around for decades and we want to make sure that we are not creating literal sunk assets." 

As for whether it could affect insurance premiums, Shaw said the industry is "already starting to shift and are developing increasingly sophisticated models about the risks that are present in different locations". 

He said the Government wants to work with the insurance industry. 

What will be assessed and how?

Climate change hazards are first going to have to be defined and it will need to be determined what impact each hazard could have. 

The state of change in these perceived hazards will need to be agreed on as well as an assessment process. 

Equally important will be identifying research gaps where strength of evidence is low for perceived risks or where there is deep uncertainty. 

The approach chosen to identify at-risk elements for the first NCCRA aligns with the Treasury's Living Standards Framework, which shaped this year's Wellbeing Budget

Hazards will be categorised into primary and secondary risks. For example, change in annual rainfall will be split into hazardous effects that would be considered more at risk. 

Relative sea-level rise and change in tidal or increased water depth would be considered primary, while changes in waves and swell would be classed as secondary. 

The Government provided an example in the framework for what else will be considered: an X metre sea-level rise could lead to a significant national exposure of buildings and infrastructure. 

For a national-scale risk assessment, it is recommended hazards are developed for seven climate zones to represent the country's range of climates that "may show significant differences in climate change impacts". 

James Shaw unveils plan for climate-related hazards 'not yet realised'
Photo credit: Supplied

The framework notes that just because an area has no previous record of a particular hazard, it might in the future. Assessors will have to look at whether a change could give rise to a risk that has "not yet been realised". 

An example provided is prolonged summer heatwaves. They may not be an issue in some coastal urban areas, like Auckland, but with rapid urbanisation, combined with an ageing population and a rise in average temperature, health risks may increase. 

The method for risk assessment

  • Exposure assessment: Projections will be made considering how people, buildings, infrastructure, environments, primary production and critical facilities will be affected by climate hazards. 
  • Vulnerability assessment: Quality and durability of building materials or the condition of assets, infrastructure or services will be assessed, for example. 
  • Consequence assessment: More frequent coastal flooding or a seasonal shift in rainfall will lead to a higher risk rating, the framework notes. 
  • Risk scoring: A workbook is proposed for each sector, where key climate-related hazards and their exposure and sensitivity will be defined, and then assessed based on risk. 

The team who will conduct risk assessments will be announced in a few weeks. The response to the framework will be announced in 2020.