Deep South, signing off


The National Science Challenges come to the end of their 10-year journey today.

I have been fortunate to lead New Zealand’s climate change adaptation National Science Challenge – the Deep South Challenge – over its final 2.5 years. The Challenge, alongside other research efforts, has helped understand key climate drivers around Aotearoa New Zealand, the impacts on our key parts of our economy, and how Mātauranga is helping communities to adapt.

We don’t get a choice about adapting to a changing climate. The choice is whether we make bold decisions and do it on our terms, or instead, experience costly knee-jerk reactions to devastating climate events.

We’re choosing the latter: Gabrielle in February 2023, Auckland Anniversary weekend 2023, Nelson floods 2022, Westport floods in 2021 and 2022 and this week (again) Wairoa. Our thoughts are with those repeatedly having to deal with climate impacts.

We still don’t have a framework for things like moving out of (let alone stop building in) flood-prone regions. Currently, managed retreat is effectively being “managed” by banks and insurance companies. The latest Challenge research adds more evidence that this will exacerbate existing inequalities.

We have enough information and tools to get on with adapting to climate change, and many communities and sectors are now committed to climate adaptation planning and action. But the longer we delay making those bold decisions, the higher the overall cost (financially, socially, culturally and environmentally) will be.

Continued strategic research will be needed over the coming decades, to bridge the gap between knowledge and adaptation action, to resource hapū and marae community research projects, and to develop fitter for purpose, accessible, climate hazard and risk information.

Not investing in research now will mean even harder financial times in the future. Ill-informed decisions will lead to disconnected communities, suffering industries – and those who rely on them, food insecurity and biodiversity loss.

Our website ( is full of webinar recordings, videos, podcasts, infosheets, and of course reports that communicate our researchers’ findings, and will ensure that the work of all those in the Challenge is retained and available for the next 10 years (at least!).

The fantastic Deep South Challenge team have found new ways to identify and fund actionable and useable research for communities and other end users – and have brought climate change onto the agenda for many groups and sectors. Many of the team are now looking for new opportunities after the Challenge. If you get a chance to hire them, then snap them up quickly!

I’m looking forward to the next 10 years with optimism. While we’ve got many hurdles ahead, the Deep South Challenge has shown me we’ve got many dedicated and talented people working across a wide range of issues – we just need to get in and support them.

Phil Wiles, Director, Deep South Challenge.

27 June, 2024. Wellington, NZ.