Insights, Law Changes

The Times They are a-Changin

The Times They are a-Changin

The Times They are a-Changin’ – the proposed Climate Change Adaptation Act

With the Government now confirming the repeal and replacement of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), this article explores what we can expect from the Climate Change Adaptation Act (CCAA).

On 10 February 2021 the incumbent Government confirmed what many ‘in the know’ had been anticipating for some time – the Resource Management Act’s three-decade reign is to come to an end. This, of course, comes on the back of a comprehensive review of New Zealand’s resource management system which was authored by the Resource Management Review Panel (the Panel).

A ‘hot’ topic

Many would argue that climate change is the defining issue of our time due to the potential for far-reaching effects, especially if mitigation measures are not implemented and actioned. Under all emission scenarios surface temperatures are projected to rise over the 21st century. As a result, aspects of climate change which are unavoidable will need to be adapted to through informed decision making about resource use.

The Panel found that the current legislative framework in respect of climate change has:

  • an insufficient focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and planning for a low-emissions economy (mitigation);
  • insufficient focus on addressing the effects of climate change (adaptation) and the risks from natural hazards;
  • poor integration across the relevant legislative instruments, notably between the Climate Change Response Act 2002 (CCRA) and the RMA; and
  • capacity, capability and funding barriers.

While the Natural and Built Environments Act (NBEA) will outline bottom lines for emissions in order to comply with domestic and international obligations, the CCAA will seek to deal with the complexities of managed retreat and climate change adaptation.

Managed retreat

Managed retreat is the strategic relocation of communities, assets and activities to reduce risk in those areas which are prone to natural hazard risks. One way that managed retreat is actioned is giving councils the power to withdraw resource consents which have been granted in zones which are at high risk of sea-level rise. Those who reside in these areas are then relocated to safer territory. The CCAA will better equip local councils to deal with these impacts of climate change, which is crucial, given a large proportion of New Zealand’s major urban centres are located on the coast or on the floodplains of major rivers. As a result, the CCAA will allow councils and communities to engage in strategic planning for adaptation and allow for positive land use change as previously habitable land becomes too dangerous for people to live or work on.

Funding and compensation

In respect of funding issues, it will be incumbent on the Government to be the driving force in ensuring that decisions in respect of climate change adaptation are made in a timely way. Many of the communities most vulnerable to climate change and natural hazard risks do not have the ability to fund solutions to these issues, especially those in coastal areas.

As a result, many have called for a central fund to assist with climate change adaptation including the relocation, rebuild and redesign of three -waters (wastewater, stormwater and drinking water), flood protection and local infrastructure and assets.

In proposing the basis of the CCAA, the Panel’s view was that adaptation costs could not be left to lie where they fall and a systematic, top-driven approach would be needed through the creation of a national funding mechanism for proactive adaptation and risk mitigation.

We are already experiencing the impacts of climate change so it is important that there are processes in place to deal with its adverse effects, especially when it will involve the relocation of entire communities, and especially when we are already in the midst of a national housing crisis. It is expected that the CCAA, together with the Natural and Built Environments Act and the Strategic Planning Act, will be passed into law by the end of 2022.

If you have a question about the CCAA or the other Acts which will replace the RMA, or any other issue related to resource management law, then please contact us.