Most public discussion occurs over mitigation – how to decrease greenhouse gas emissions. Hence we debate emission caps and trading, their stringency and timing, and their application to various economic sectors – agriculture being the most controversial.
However, in global terms New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions are miniscule (0.2% of global volume), although our per capita emissions are 11th highest in the world (World Resources Institute).
Our Government’s agenda seems principally economic – soften the blow of emissions restrictions on key sectors, gain credit for afforestation, capitalise on ‘green’ business opportunities, and exploit the shaky ‘green’ brand that benefits New Zealand products in global markets.
And as an afterthought, yes, occasionally try to make amends to our environment and salvage our moral standing with our grandchildren.
This article leaves the debate over mitigation strategy to others. And like official government, we take as a given that global warming is not a prediction to debate.
Instead, here, we try to bring global warming home to Hawke’s Bay, examining how it will affect our economic and physical security, and what our local officials are doing to anticipate and adapt to those consequences.
Local effects of global warming
The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) provides substantial guidance for local governments on climate change – what they should expect, which local government responsibilities are implicated, and how they might respond.
Most of us generally understand the main physical impacts of climate change – sea level rise, increasing temperatures, and more extreme and frequent severe weather events.
However, not until these effects are ‘mapped’ onto our own region and its typography, traditional weather patterns and economic activities can we really appreciate what is at stake. Various reports and publications from MfE, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), and the Ministry of Agriculture (MAF) have begun to project impacts in a more localised manner.
In addition, Hawke’s Bay is fortunate to have scientist Dr Gavin Kenny of Earthwise Consulting as a Hastings-based, internationally respected expert on climate issues.
Since 2001 Kenny’s work has focused on local adaptation to climate change, including the impact on local agriculture. Prior to that he served as Research Fellow and then Senior Research Fellow with the International Global Change Institute, University of Waikato. His work has begun to educate Hastings and Regional Council officials regarding the expected local impacts of global warming. These sources present a consistent profile of the physical changes to occur in Hawke’s Bay.
Says Kenny: “Climate change is one of the primary drivers of the future for this region. Climate change is happening now and anyone who thinks it’s not is either very naïve or deliberately avoiding the reality.”
Effects of regional climate changes
Each of these climate influences can have a variety of regional effects. A paper prepared by Dr Kenny for the Hastings Council describes them.
- Increased coastal erosion – think Haumoana, Westshore
- More extensive coastal inundation
- Higher storm surge flooding
- Increased drainage problems in adjacent low-lying areas
- Seawater reaching further inland in estuaries and coastal aquifers
Less, but more intense rainfall
- Increased soil erosion, especially in hill country
- Increased flooding, with associated infrastructure and property damage
- Overwhelmed stormwater and wastewater systems
- Less water security for irrigators
- Reduced river flows and groundwater recharge
- Changes in groundwater levels and leaching
- Threats to roads and bridges
- Poorer soil condition and reduced pasture productivity
- Adverse conditions for temperate fruit crops – think apples
- Different and greater pest and disease problems – for both animals and crops
- Health effects from extreme weather events
- Increased fire risk in rural areas
This is a daunting list, with easily imagined impacts on the region’s agricultural productivity, infrastructure investment and security, ecology, and development patterns and potential.
Adds Dr Kenny: “Possible impacts will have the potential to be a lot more severe under the higher climate change scenarios. Such scenarios cannot be excluded at present, particularly given the lack of concerted international action to curb greenhouse gas emissions.”
Security of water supply, flooding and impacts on coastal communities are likely to be the greatest issues in Hastings District. The uncertainty of changes to rainfall in the western ranges link to changes in runoff and river flows in the river catchments that feed the Heretaunga Plains and its aquifer. Reforestation in hill country and increased on-farm storage, dams and bores could further reduce
downstream water flows and aquifer recharge. Lower river flows would worsen already deteriorating lowland river ecologies.
In Napier, the chief impact would fall on water management. Already, stormwater from 75% of Napier must be pumped to sea. With more frequent intense rainfall events, this system becomes even more vital. And of course Napier has its own coastal erosion problem that will worsen at Westshore.
In Central Hawke’s Bay, the primary issues appear to be security of water supply, the stress higher temperatures could place on soil productivity, and increased erosion from both intensified rain events and increased winds (on top of drier soils).
In all parts of the Bay, more frequent and intense droughts would carry enormous economic, social and personal well-being consequences. For Hastings and Napier, officials have prepared quite alarming maps depicting expected extent of flooding from coastal inundation and/or stopbank failure.
National guidance to act
At the central government level, MfE, NIWA and MAF are all working on climate issues, including providing regionally targeted impact information and/or adaptation guidance. MfE has published Climate change effects and impacts assessment – A Guidance Manual for Local Government in New Zealand. This 167-page guide covers climate projections, effects on local government functions and services, scenario development, risk assessment and how to integrate climate change into council decision-making. As the Guide instructs:
“…councils and communities should be giving serious consideration to the potential future impacts of climate change on their functions and services. Particularly important are infrastructure and developments that will need to cope with climate conditions in 50–100 years’ time. Examples include stormwater drainage systems, planning for irrigation schemes, development of low-lying land already subject to flood risk, and housing and infrastructure along already eroding coastlines. Climate change may also bring opportunities (eg, growing new horticultural crops in a particular area) to which councils may wish to pay attention.”
According to MAF’s website: “MAF’s role is to ensure New Zealand’s land based sectors are resilient and can respond to the opportunities and challenges of climate change.” MAF’s ‘Plan of Action’ on climate change notes:
“New Zealand agriculture and forestry will be exposed to a changing climate marked by warmer temperatures, increased drought in the east, more intensive, frequent and damaging rainfall events across the country and, potentially, new pests and diseases. The sectors are likely to benefit from enhanced growing conditions, as long as water is available, but only up to the global average temperature increase of 1–2°C. After that, the effects of climate change become increasingly negative.”
In practice, much of MAF’s attention to date with respect to adaptation has focused on water storage and irrigation.
Without question, successive Governments have accepted the need to adapt to climate change, and have provided guidance to local government. Mayor Lawrence Yule expects more guidance to come, perhaps in the form of a National Policy Statement that addresses all ‘natural hazards’, including sea-level rise, intense storm and rainfall events, and liquefaction.
How are our local decision-makers responding?
The Hastings and Regional Councils have more comprehensive efforts underway to anticipate climate change; Napier’s focus is more limited.
HB Regional Council
HBRC notes that the Resource Management Act now requires that councils and others have particular regard to the effects of climate change when carrying out their functions.
The Council’s recent future scenarios report, looking forty years ahead, cites climate change as one of ‘three shocks’ likely during the scenario period. The Council routinely assesses ten ‘key risks’ requiring its attention, and climate change is one of those.
According to Liz Lambert, Group Manager for External Relations, the Regional Council’s work on climate change includes these elements:
- All reviews of Flood Control and Drainage Schemes include assessments of the impact of climate change, including provision for more severe weather events. The predicted increase in severe rainfall of up to 17% by 2090 is estimated to result in a 25% increase in peak river flows. Improving stopbanks that protect the Heretaunga Plains to meet a higher 1 in 500 year event design standard (from the present 100 year standard) is estimated to cost $15 million.
- A proposed project to integrate forestry into hill country farming, and financial support for research by Victoria University on ways to mitigate increased runoff.
- Incorporating the impact of sea level rise on coastal erosion and inundation risk into the Regional Coastal Environment Plan, with further investigations to begin in 2011/12 to assess sea level rise effects across the Bay for a range of SLR predictions. The focus is on hazards and coastal development, but with relevance to coastal wetlands and saltwater intrusion effects on coastal aquifers.
- Working closely with the primary production sector – particularly horticulturalists, vintners and arable industries – to more proactively monitor and manage the new risks of pest incursion.
The granddaddy of all climate adaptation projects in Hawke’s Bay would be the water storage projects being studied for Central Hawke’s Bay (the Tukituki catchment) and the Ngaruroro River (affecting the Heretaunga Plains).
As Lambert notes: “The brief for the feasibility studies requires the service provider to consider and ‘allow for climate change scenarios’. These scenarios have been assumed to be those advised by NIWA and generally accepted practice of applying 50 and 100 year planning horizons. While the focus of this is on economic development and environmental sustainability, they will improve the resilience of the region to climate change.”
At point for climate change planning at HDC is Mark Clews, Principal Advisor: District Development, but this is just a piece of his portfolio. The Council has begun to insinuate climate adaptation into its various planning processes. Urban/spatial development, resilience of its primary production economic base, and coastal impacts are three of the District’s most significant climate challenges.
The Heretaunga Plains Urban Development Study commissioned a paper on climate impacts to inform that project. Now Hastings (and Napier) must decide how to reflect climate concerns in their District Plans, where the rubber meets the road.
Preview consultation about to begin on Hastings’ next Long Term Plan – under the rubric My Voice, My Choice – flags climate change as a scenario for comment. For example, a discussion brochure on ‘Land Use’ cites likely climate impacts on the rural sector and asks ratepayers to think about these adaptation options:
- Become the portal for rural land-users access to locally tailored information on climate change adaptation.
- Promote the establishment of a locally focused blog to foster discussion and information sharing on the possibilities for rural land-users to adapt and capitalise on changes to climatic conditions.
- Undertake a hazardscape analysis of rural and plains community’s vulnerability and resilience to climate change as a basis for long term planning.
- Research rural based energy options for rural production including bio-fuels from on-farm agricultural waste.
Clews doesn’t expect dedicated spending against climate adaptation in the next three years of the LTP. The work now is mostly about factoring climate impacts into infrastructure planning and understanding how active a role ratepayers want the Council to play.
Mayor Yule observes: “We’re not ready to tell people they need to move here or there. It’s more migrating to the point where we know that future development will be out of harm’s way.”
The most visible case of long term climate impacts potentially affecting near-term decision-making is probably the Haumoana/Te Awanga coastal erosion issue. Residents there want an engineering solution to protect the coast in the face of predictably more intense storms and sea surges.
Mayor Yule sees the effects of climate change as just one factor in the ultimate decision, saying: “If an engineering solution, that’s financially sustainable, can protect homes and our road for twenty years, regardless of sea level rise, then maybe that’s worth looking at.” At the same time, future buyers need to be fully informed about the risks and future development should target risk-free areas.
According to the Napier Long Term Plan: “We are vitally interested in the known science of climate change as much of our important infrastructure is dependent on stability in this area. The airport, our residential developments and stormwater disposal methods are all impacted by changes in our climate. Monitoring information that will give us guidance for good decision making around changes in our environment will be ongoing.” NCC assumes that “any climate change arising from global warming will not impact in any significant way on the Napier community during the period covered by the plan.”
The Napier City Council appears to have the least ‘orchestrated’ approach to climate adaptation. The ball is carried by Johan Ehlers, Napier’s works asset development manager. Not surprising … as noted earlier, 75% of low-lying Napier’s stormwater must already be pumped to sea. Making that system work and planning its future capacity and upgrading is Ehlers’ brief. Sea-rise and, even more, more frequent intense rainfalls will complicate his task.
In 2008 NCC commissioned a report from NIWA, Impacts of climate change on high intensity rainfall in Napier, which said yes, Napier will endure more frequent intense rainfalls. In Napier, more intense rainfall will be exacerbated by in-fill development – more built-over land that cannot absorb water.
Still, Ehlers says current design standards – design against a 1 in 50 year event, with 55% of the water running into the system – can handle the worsening scenario … and the stormwater system is being upgraded methodically to those standards. It’s a question of how much to spend, how fast, to have a ‘rainproof’ system.
Since 1997, Napier has spent $7.6 million on stormwater upgrading and renewals. Its current LTP projects a total stormwater investment over the next ten years at $24.9 million. In addition, Ehlers notes, as climate effects are felt, Napier will eventually need to expand its stormwater system to remove water from the 25% of Napier that is not now pumped.
Other public assets
BayBuzz asked the custodians of two major public assets in Hawke’s Bay – the port, and the airport – if they were doing anything to anticipate climate change effects.
Nigel Sutton, general manager of the Hawke’s Bay Airport, built on land that requires constant pumping, furnished the most surprising response:
“I considered it essential that before investing in a longer runway and other infrastructure at the airport we should be reasonably sure that we would get an adequate life out of the asset. I undertook extensive research of the available scientific papers regarding, global warming, climate change and sea level rises. Contrary to the claims of some so called ‘climate scientists’ and the IPCC, carbon dioxide is not a pollutant and does not cause global warming, climate change or sea level rises. The sea around New Zealand has been calculated to have risen by an average of 1.6 mm per year for the past 100 years and there is no scientific evidence that the rate of sea level rise is increasing. If we assume a life of the new airport infrastructure of 40 years the sea may rise by 64 mm in that time, which is unlikely to adversely affect the airport.”
“Climate does change, but it is generally over much longer time periods and for many reasons not altogether understood. But the earth’s relationship with the sun and the sun’s activity would constitute by far the major influence although asteroids colliding with earth and volcanic activity can catastrophically affect climate from time to time.”
In contrast, Chris Bain, chief operating officer at the Port, responded: “…rising sea levels are the most obvious changes that may impact seaports. Ironically this may be of slight benefit – an increase in water depth will assist handling ever-larger vessels. When we constructed a new berth two years ago it was consciously designed at a greater height to account for possible future changes in sea level – 4.7m above chart datum compared to 3.8m for older berths.” Bain adds: “We are close observers of early stage environmental initiatives elsewhere in the world.”
What will we grow?
In Hawke’s Bay, ensuring the resilience of primary production is a chief concern of climate adaptation planning.
However, the farming sector’s leading voice, Federated Farmers, has concentrated on mitigation – lessening and delaying the burden that mandating lower emissions will place on farmers. Fed Farmers’ senior policy advisor Jacob Haronga emailed to BayBuzz: “We do not provide education materials, workshops etc on what farmers should be doing practically to anticipate climate change impacts. We lack the resources, staff time and in-house expertise to do this justice … Our members have been more concerned to see us achieve better outcomes on government policy and the ETS in particular.”
He adds: “Not a lot has been done to understand the adaptation options for most areas of rural New Zealand. Hawke’s Bay remains the strongestexception, largely due to the work Gavin Kenny undertook a number of years ago. More research needs to be undertaken to provide practical options for farmers in other areas to pick up and utilise.”
Dr Kenny might appreciate that compliment, but knowing this work began in 2001, he comments to BayBuzz ten years later: “Where’s the critical analysis of long-term economic resilience in our region? What are the key things we need to be doing to build resilience?”
Kenny is concerned about inattention to the linkages between land use on hill country farms (such as planting trees to curb climate-exacerbated erosion), large and small scale water storage schemes, and downstream impacts on waterways and water users.
Water availability is top of mind when BayBuzz asks Hawke’s Bay Fruitgrowers chair Leon Stallard or Te Mata Winery’s Peter Cowley about climate change. Both seem comfortable that their industries can adapt to slowly changing weather, within limits. Stallard talks of shifting varieties and even trying kiwifruit. He’s concerned that there will be enough winter nighttime chilling to shock fruit trees into dormancy.
The Hawke’s Bay Winegrowers Association has been looking at climate impacts through a MAF-sponsored project. That said, Cowley’s grapes actually would prefer another 1°C or 2°C of heat. Those conditions would more closely match Bordeaux, producing region of the wines against which Te Mata’s premium reds compete.
But water availability for irrigation is the bottomline to growers. Says Cowley: “We’ve all got used to having this aquifer… Our assumption is that it’s renewing itself on a daily basis.” If climate change reduced access to water for irrigation, “that would be a problem”, he adds dryly.
Are local councils doing enough?
No council staff in Hawke’s Bay are dedicated 100% today to the climate adaptation issue.
With the possible exception of planning and building long term public assets like roads, bridges, public buildings and water infrastructure, where more demanding design standards are coming into play, our region’s councils are mostly at the stage of self-education. They accept climate change as a given, and they are making the connections between the effects of climate change and the options for adaptation.
One might ask … how much is enough? Staffs can educate and sensitise themselves, as HDC is doing by surveying senior managers on potential climate impacts in their areas of responsibility. They can monitor physical events and evolving science, generate impact scenarios and assess risks, and develop adaptation strategies – all in a context of predictive uncertainty.
But even assuming everybody agrees on the nature and scale of likely impacts (except Nigel Sutton), the answer is ultimately a political one … what priority to set now?
Dr Kenny argues that councils are “treading water”. There has been no basic building of capacity in councils, anywhere in NZ, to deal with this issue … merely the occasional one-off, one-hour workshops. “If you want to build resilience to climate change into planning you need first to build staff capacity and knowledge in the relevant organizations and then you need to resource them properly to maintain their priority focus on climate change.”
Once councils are focused, Kenny advocates a ‘resilience approach’ – “preparing for uncertainty and surprise, and ensuring the capacity to adapt and change over time.” Taking the case of stormwater management, planners would not just use ‘bigger pipes’, they would also look at ways households and commercial properties could minimise run-off into the system. Or, using ‘anticipatory design’ – a more substantial foundation might be constructed for today’s stopbank, spending more money in the near-term, so that it can be built higher more readily in the future.
Mark Clews speaks of planning against a goal of ‘no regrets’. He notes: “Normally when we face uncertainty or risk in our lives we insure against it. Climate adaptation policy is actually our insurance.”
“Where do people look for leadership on this? he asks. “It’s Council’s role to drive the conversation. We can’t expect national solutions to be applied locally. Locals need to deliver on adaptation and planning for resilience.”
Lawrence Yule puts it bluntly: “We can’t sit down now and do nothing, and then in fifty years say, S***, we better do something now!”
Regarding Hastings, Yule observes: “The critical thing is to decide whether you think it’s happening or not. We’ve never actually had that debate amongst Councillors; our officers are ahead of the Council. We’re doing things, but we don’t have a clear policy perspective.” In his view: “Our Long Term Plan should come out and say … our Council philosophy is that we believe climate change is occurring, and we’re following national guidelines in our planning.”
Ultimately Mayors and Councillors must decide how to weigh tangible present needs, voiced by very demanding voters, against less tangible future contingencies. They determine what priority is given to the future versus the present. Most fundamentally this comes down to mind share and spending – how much attention should council staff devote to climate adaptation and how much should we spend on future contingencies, and how quickly?
For elected bodies already having difficulties keeping current with ‘routine’ asset maintenance expenditures, investing today in climate change adaptation might be asking too much of the democratic process!