In this, my fifth, article I argue that climate change adaptation should be an initial focus for the Interim Climate Change Committee because it should easier to build political consensus over than mitigation.  And showing progress on our Zero Carbon bill will be important for our EU free trade agreement.

David Prentice is chair of the Interim Climate Change Committee, charged  with establishing an independent climate change commission as a core part of the proposed zero carbon act.  Building political consensus around the functions of climate change commission will be essential if it is to endure across multiple political cycles.  Ultimately the consensus will need to cover all of our climate change commitments, mitigation (reducing our GHG emissions as good world citizens) and adaptation (limiting the impacts of climate change on us).  But adaptation is the best place to start because it will be a lot easier to build consensus over than mitigation.  The benefits of adaptation are tangible to all of us and the initial costs are relatively low.  Whereas the  benefits of mitigation are less tangible, the costs are a lot higher, and the costs are not evenly distributed.

Judy Lawrence is co-chair of the Climate Change Adaptation Technical Working Group and recently released their final report.  This included specific recommendations on the role of the Independent Climate Change Commission in leading the process developing a climate change adaptation strategy.  Particularly in developing a nationally consistent set of data and risk assessment and management strategy.  David Prentice should take this recommendation as a lifeline and grab it with both hands.  It will be a lot easier to get political consensus with this recommendation than it will with the mitigation steps, as recommended by the Productivity Commission.

With negotiations on an EU free trade agreement starting to gain momentum it will be important to show progress on our Zero Carbon bill.  The EU have already indicated that commitment to climate change is a factor to consider in the agreement.  So progress on our zero carbon bill will be important to the negotiations.  Such free trade agreements are long term commitments so we will need to show our zero carbon bill has a fair degree of political consensus and is likely to endure.

The zero carbon bill is part of how we show commitment to our Paris climate change commitments. These commitments require us to both help the world, through climate change mitigation, and help ourselves, through climate change adaptation.

But building political consensus around our mitigation commitments is difficult because:

  • They are very costly to deliver:
  • The cost falls disproportionally on the rural sector (traditional supporters of National and NZ first); and
  • The benefits to us are a bit intangible (it’s mostly about doing our bit and we might get an EU free trade agreement for being world citizens).

By contrast building political consensus around adaptation should be easier as:

  • We all get tangible benefits (nobody likes to see pictures of flooded homes near you, or to be in the flooded home);
  • Although it will be expensive eventually it is still a lot cheaper than mitigation; and
  • The initial steps are actually pretty low cost (assessing risks and developing management strategies).

Productivity Commission Shows Mitigation Difficult

The Productivity Commission delivered its draft report on how to meet or exceed our current climate change mitigation commitments back in April.  The draft report assumed we would have to meet our commitments without access to international carbon markets, which are very slow to develop.  It showed that the costs of meeting these commitments, in the absence of a magic bullet for agricultural emissions, and some current real barriers to reducing our transport emissions, would be very high and borne mostly by the rural sector and the poor.  Building political consensus about how quickly we should pursue these goals, and how the costs are to be distributed across different sectors of society is going to be very difficult and take time.  In the mitigation space our best strategy may be to pursue solutions to these barriers in agriculture and transport now, in the hope of making consensus easier to reach eventually.

CCATWG Shows Adaptation Relatively Easy

By contrast the Climate Change Adaptation Technical Working Group has identified some urgent and immediate things we can make progress on now.  And they are things that, relatively speaking, are not hugely expensive, certainly in the millions not multiple billions, at this point.  These are mostly about understanding our risks better, building a nationally consistent data set, and developing nationally consistent risk management strategies.  Even more importantly they recognise the need to engage communities in the process and take people with them on the journey.  It may seem obvious but it is such a key to building political consensus through the process.

Grab the Lifeline – Take The Easy Wins

So, David, you have the mandate to build political consensus around climate change actions as a key input to the zero carbon bill, and Judy has just handed you a lifeline.  Grab it with both hands.