Research Project

Culture & climate change

Centring culture in public engagement on climate change

How do people’s cultural values shape and influence the way they might adapt to the new realities of climate change? Rather than taking a reactive approach to climate-induced events, this research – which focusses particularly on the tourism sector – involves the design of effective and proactive risk management strategies to adapt to climate change.

This combined research and engagement project engaged with a diverse range of tourism stakeholders to promote science-based climate adaptation and better prepare businesses and communities to manage risk in the future. The project drew on rigorous public engagement methodologies such as actor-system mapping and citizen panels to construct a culture-centred framework of engagement on climate change adaptation. 

Just how prepared is Aotearoa’s highly valuable tourism sector for the coming impacts of climate change? The answer is similar to most sectors of New Zealand society: not nearly prepared enough. And yet, some aspects of tourism – its emphasis on place and stories of place, its connection to values such as manaakitanga, whānautanga and kaitiakitanga – provide tourism operators with a ready-made planning guide, as they consider how to climate-proof their operations.

In many ways, tourism presents us with a microcosm of the intersecting challenges all sectors face in relation to climate adaptation. Like other sectors, tourism is made up of multiple small-to-medium-size enterprises, many of whom don’t feel they have the resources to invest in long-term planning, or the ability to influence local or central government investment decisions around infrastructure and the natural environment. The lack of a national adaptation framework and funding, an uncertain regulatory environment and the pressures of day-to-day operations mean that climate adaptation is low on the list of priorities for many tourism businesses. Nevertheless, recent local and global events reiterate yet again how vulnerable the tourism sector is and will increasingly be to the impacts of climate change.  

Still, tourism can take the lead in showing others how to adapt to our changing climate – including by planning from and leading with culture. Tourism, by its very nature, rests on the four ‘pillars’ of culture identified in this research: place, values, power and narrative. Tourism operators already understand the imperative to operate sustainably, and are very often champions for their local environments. By integrating climate information into the stories they tell about their place; by making sure these stories and any development plans are aligned with core values of care for people and nature; and by understanding how they can exercise power in shaping sustainable tourism, operators can future-proof their businesses from the emerging impacts of climate change.

This research also finds that there is a critical need to increase operators’ awareness of relevant climate information, include about changing temperatures, extreme weather, floods and droughts, and the impact these are having on marine, coastal, river and alpine environments. Operators need better information about local impacts on flora and fauna, pest and disease profiles, and the relationship of climate impacts to air travel (for example, about the future reluctance or inability of tourists to travel to New Zealand).

This project in the media: