Research report

Local authorities and community engagement on climate adaptation

This report outlines how regional and territorial authorities currently understand their role in climate adaptation, to what extent they are currently fulfilling that role, and how they engage with their communities, particularly those that are more susceptible to harm.

From the conclusion:

Local authorities are aware of the immensity of the challenge that climate change presents for Aotearoa New Zealand, but a general sense of uncertainty, and even fear, emerged through the research.

A degree of uncertainty was perceived in relation to climate science, which was seen as a barrier to both developing effective policy, and to engaging with communities.

Scientific uncertainty makes it difficult to plan for the future, and is difficult to communicate. The perceived uncertainty of the science has combined with a sense of uncertainty about roles and responsibilities, to lead to a fear of litigation and pushback.

The fear of pushback is also underpinned by a resistance to emotive responses to engagement. This suggests that perhaps there are some specific politics of knowledge operating in these engagement spaces, where emotion is not seen as useful or valid.

A central barrier to effective engagement and associated policy development therefore appears to be the ability of councils and communities to cope with uncertainty.

A second central barrier is a lack of resourcing. Participants were able to articulate (to some extent) what they would like to do or even felt they ought to be doing, to engage more effectively and develop more effective policy, but they consistently felt constrained by time and money.

Both of these barriers – uncertainty and resourcing – were seen to be resolvable through central government actions. Increased funding, a shifting of priorities, a focus on developing science and policies at a national level, and clarifying roles and responsibilities to ensure consistency were some key actions that local authority representatives felt needed to come from central government.

Finally, a theme that was very clear throughout all interviews was a question as to how to spread the burden of climate change equitably. Every participant raised this in some manner, and none felt they could begin to answer it.

The first step they saw, was again, a need for more certainty and consistency. However, given the nature of what we are facing, there is perhaps only a degree of certainty possible.

Therefore, rather than focusing on getting rid of uncertainty, perhaps we need to focus on how we respond to it.


Climate adaptation, vulnerability and community well-being