Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation: the role of impact assessment
Climate change mitigation and adaptation provide important opportunities for impact assessment (IA) practice. In late November 2019, NZAIA, in partnership with the Secretariat for the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), held a conference in Auckland under the title Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation: assessing the impacts. The topic recognised the importance of climate change in the political arena in recent years in New Zealand and the wider Pacific region and the opportunity to apply IA to policy and planning.
This issue of Impact Connector presents a number of articles based on verbal and poster presentations at the conference. They mainly deal with the situation from a New Zealand perspective, although the articles also include wider geographical or thematic perspectives. The conference had a significant Pacific component, which is the basis for a separate issue of Impact Connector, produced with the support of SPREP for the Pacific impact assessment and climate change communities.
Last year was an important one for New Zealand in terms of climate change strategy with the amendments to the Climate Change Response Act 2002. One of the key changes to the Act was the establishment of a Climate Change Commission with two main functions. The first is to advise the Government on mitigating climate change and on climate change adaptation strategies, and the second is to monitor Government progress on emissions reduction and adaptation goals. With respect to adaptation, the Commission has the responsibility for preparing a national climate change risk assessment which will then inform the development, by the Climate Change Minister, of a national adaptation plan.
NZAIA was, and remains, concerned that the emphasis on risk assessment in the amended legislation, and in the processes already occurring to meet its aims, overlooks the need for, and value of, impact assessment methods in the development of sound mitigation and adaptation measures. In particular, we consider that the unintended consequences of both mitigation measures and adaptation plans could well be overlooked without more explicit recognition of the need to test emerging ideas using impact assessment methods.
Risk assessment certainly makes sense in the context of recognising the differential geographical and social effects of climate change across the country and identifying priorities for adaptation planning. However, the emphasis on addressing risks in adaptation planning is likely to promote the search for cost effective responses to specific physical impacts (e.g. inundation). It does not in itself encourage more integrated, strategic thinking about possible adaptation responses to the effects of climate change, and in particular does not lead to exploring the wider implications of those responses for people, communities and the natural environment. The amended Act does refer to impacts, mainly in the context of mitigating emissions, but it very much reflects the concept of “just transitions”, with its emphasis on recognising the economic impact of mitigation measures at the community level and the need to protect livelihoods, rather than wider and unintended impacts.
At the conference we asked questions to stimulate thinking and discussion:
do our current processes involve consideration of the wider, unintended consequences of mitigation and adaptation measures?
what might some of the important consequences be (both positive and negative)?
how can impact assessment methods contribute to sound decision-making about climate change mitigation and adaptation?
This issue of Impact Connector follows the broad order used in the conference, whereby more strategic themes were addressed in the early part of the programme, followed by more specific examples, and case studies.
James Whetu examines “Just Transitions”, a phrase and a concept commonly used in this country and overseas with respect to climate change mitigation and adaptation measures. It has a strong economic equity theme, but James asks what does the concept mean for Maori? In particular what might be the adverse impacts on Maori of adopting this approach without greater attention to its implications?
Taking a wider geographical perspective, Tom Burkitt looks at the issue of Asian mega-cities: significant emitters of GHGs, and often highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, but also holding the promise of contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation in positive ways if we approach those tasks in the right way—including strategic use of impact assessment methods.
Related, but more focused, is Alistair Woodward’s warning that we cannot assume the pursuit of more liveable, low-carbon urban areas to mitigate climate change is without cost, especially in terms of health impacts.
The 2016 Kaikoura earthquake caused widespread damage in the rural sector and rural communities across North Canterbury and Marlborough. Mike Bennett and Nick Taylor discuss a major farmer-led programme, the Post-Quake Farming Project (PQFP), to support recovery in the farming sector. They describe how impact assessment is being used at a strategic level, but also as a participatory tool at the community level to help design and manage change. An important part of the programme is to help farming communities develop resilience in the face of potential future challenges, especially climate change, and adapt farming systems to include carbon credits and enhanced biodiversity.
Willie Smith and Nathan Heath look at the reasons why the Government’s One Billion Trees programme—partly climate mitigation through carbon sequestration, partly regional development—has proved so contentious at the community level in a district on the east coast of North Island. A key factor is how the impacts of the programme are perceived by different stakeholders in the community, and by local Maori.
Another case study is the ecological restoration project on Banks Peninsula, near Christchurch on South Island. Mark Christensen describes a project that addresses the loss of biodiversity in the landscape and at the same time contributes to climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration. Yet, even a project of this kind can potentially have adverse impacts on others; impact assessment can play a role, but how can it be institutionalised in non-statutory contexts?
We hope you enjoy the articles and use them to enhance IA practice. Note that the Powerpoint slides for each original presentation are available here. And do look at the Pacific issue of Impact Connector that contains articles based on papers and posters from the same conference, but which addressed Pacific topics.