In the next five minutes I want to talk about the importance of cities playing a leading role in promoting the acceleration of climate change adaptation. But first, just a quick snapshot of our place in the world.
The Greater Christchurch area is home to around 500,000 people and is the second largest urban area in New Zealand. As a relatively low-lying coastal city, we are exposed to multiple natural hazards – earthquakes, flooding, coastal erosion, storm, tsunami and fire.
The last decade has been challenging for Christchurch. Next month is the 10th anniversary of the major earthquake that devastated our city and communities. Although enormous progress has been made, we are still recovering from its impact.
One of my first actions on becoming Mayor in 2013 was to nominate our city for the 100 Resilient Cities network, pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation. I wanted to belong to a network of cities focused on sharing knowledge about building resilience – the cornerstone for taking on the kinds of shocks and stresses we are vulnerable to.
Climate change just adds to the challenges we have to confront, which is why we must take action now. We are also having to confront this global pandemic. We, in Christchurch, have certainly benefitted from our government’s ‘go hard and go early’ strategy. However, we have to remain constantly vigilant to the risks we continue to face – community transmission could send us back into lockdown. At the same time, we know from experience that in a crisis we must look for opportunities. There is no question that our focus on building resilient communities has helped us enormously and I believe it will do so again when it comes to climate change adaptation.
In 2019, our Council declared a Climate and Ecological Emergency and adopted our greenhouse gas emissions targets – net zero carbon emissions for the Council by 2030, and 2045 for the city as a whole.
We are in the process of finalising our local strategic framework for climate resilience action, which is firmly based on the partnerships that in my view are more readily developed at a city and community level.
There are two aspects of our approach that I wish to speak to briefly, which, I hope, offer a unique perspective on why cities matter.
- The significance of our relationship with Māori – our first nation’s people; and
- The opportunities the earthquake offered us to model adaptation planning in collaboration with our communities.
First our relationship with Māori. Our local tribal authority, Te Rūnanga o Ngai Tahu, has a well-developed strategic framework around climate change. They have adopted the view that there is no choice but to show leadership, in the effort to reduce the impacts of climate change, and in the crucial adaptation work for the ongoing wellbeing of their people and communities. They are facing this challenge with the courage, resilience and wisdom of their ancestors as they create a cultural legacy for those yet to come, who must live in a changed world. Ngai Tahu is committed to working in partnership with local and central government, as we are with them. None of us can succeed without the other.
The second point relates to our earthquake recovery experience which has enabled us to model adaptation planning. As part of the response to the earthquakes, a 600-hectare area of low-lying land, flood-prone land adjacent to the Ōtākaro/Avon river, was cleared of around 7000 residential homes with a government buy-out. This created the opportunity to work with the community to reimagine the future of this area, while, at the same time, developing and planting wetland areas to protect biodiversity, mitigate flood risks, manage stormwater and improve water quality. This has given the city a head-start in building resilience to the impacts of climate change.
The extensive community engagement in the regeneration planning process this involved, has also helped us develop an approach to coastal hazard adaptation planning which is being rolled out now. We are working with 23 priority communities in coastal and low inland areas to develop a shared understanding of the science; and finding locally appropriate adaptation approaches that suit each community.
In terms of funding, there is no question that in New Zealand, central government will be required to come to the table, especially in the case of managed retreat from highly vulnerable areas, however at least our earthquake experience has provided a model to work from.
I wanted to end with this. Many of you will know the quote attributed to Harold Fleming: “The wisdom of the community always exceeds the knowledge of the experts.” However, after everything we have been through over the past 10 years, I’m strongly of the view that “the wisdom of the community when combined with the knowledge of the experts always exceeds what one can offer without the other”.
We need to talk with each other, combining expert advice with local and traditional knowledge, and that is best done as close as possible to the affected communities. That to me is the basis for an ambitious commitment to accelerating adaptation planning in partnership with Māori and with our local communities, and that is why it is so vital that cities lead the way.
I am pleased Christchurch has been asked to join the 1000 Cities Adapt Now Global Program, and I am happy to endorse it today.