Innovations for climate adaptation


Necessity is the mother of invention

We’ve all heard it –responding to challenges makes people think differently and approach problem solving with new and exciting ideas. In the case of climate change, the Innovations for Climate Adaptation research team found that in “place-based” organisations – that is mana whenua groups and Councils – people were just “getting on with it” in the absence of robust legislative and policy frameworks.

Where “there’s nothing to tell us what to do”, mana whenua and councils are discovering, inspiring others and innovating their way to climate adaptation solutions as they go along. This research programme in the Deep South National Science Challenge was a way to capture and explore some of those innovations.

Unashamedly grounded

For many mana whenua groups, the time to adapt is now. They have people and places disproportionately threatened by climate change, and rich taonga and mātauranga to protect for future generations. Janet Stephenson, one of the Innovations team suggests that the strong approach from mana whenua is partly because they come to this mahi with such an “unashamedly grounded” set of principles.

The core of the discovery work by the team was six-monthly interviews with participants who could track and report on the success of their innovations and initiatives over time. Janet notes that many of these were based in deep connection with Papatuānuku and the understanding that climate change would be yet another disruptor of the health of te taiao. “Māori communities we worked with all had a holistic response; let us strengthen and restore te taiao: if we have clean water and if we have mahinga kai that are productive and ngāhere that are protected and healthy, and our wetlands are doing what they should be, our communities will be protected.”

Strong networks

Like so many projects in the Deep South Challenge – and especially those with a strong Te Ao Māori focus – Innovations relied heavily on its networks. These networks were able to be nurtured and strengthened in regular kōrero and hui that brought them all together to share experiences, which Janet says people took “visceral enjoyment” from. Having that reason to come together, to connect and to talk about the work that was happening at a community level, helped with purpose and direction.

But it wasn’t only necessary to explore what was working. Many who engaged with this project were aware of the big gap at a political and legislative level in terms of the structures and policy to support climate change adaptation for communities. Part of the success of this project for Janet and the team was being able to engage with those issues and to have frank interactions with Councils and others in positions of power, to think about how climate change adaptation could be “just and robust”. This included a co-developed submission to the Select Committee on climate change adaptation signed by representatives of all of the Māori research partners.

As a result of this project, these networks are now assisted by a range of tools and a robust knowledge base. The team’s Kete Whakaaro product – “a basket of ideas from mana whenua who are leading their own climate change adaptation” – is one of these. It’s arranged so that users can read testimony and explore the innovations and principles already at work in community climate change adaptation.

What next?

Councils need to give mana whenua the space and support; they must honour Te Tiriti and ensure that communities can exercise tino rangatiratanga. The Innovations team would say this is about really listening to these communities, and giving credibility to their ideas and approaches – and the long history and mātauranga that underpins them.

The team also advocates for the idea that if funding was provided to communities to self- govern, that relatively small but consistent contributions could have a significant impact. It wasn’t always a question of money, either: sometimes offering office space, or arranging for people to make connections was critical.

It’s often local government who are in the most structurally able position to help mana whenua communities and the key theme of relationships comes up again and again. The team’s hopes for the legacy of this project is therefore pretty simple: maintaining connections. From there, so much innovation flows.