Adapting to climate change impacts

How do we avoid the worst possible climate change scenario? New research led by Te Herenga Waka– Victoria University of Wellington’s Dr Judy Lawrence suggests a new method, starting with the future we wish to avoid and working backwards to identify the steps we need to take, and under what conditions we need to take them, to avoid that future.

The research lays out a procedure for identifying ‘adaptation thresholds’ (the future situations we want to avoid), ‘triggers’ (the right moment to action an adaptation decision), and ‘signals’ (very early warning bells of climate change impacts). It provides decision-making guidance for local councils and for river and coastal hazard managers on how to adapt to and avoid climate change impacts.

“We want to support local capability and capacity for adaptation planning for changes to climate that will undoubtedly impact where we live and how we go about our business, as well as how we protect public safety, health, and well-being,” Dr Lawrence says.

The research was undertaken by a team lead from Te Herenga Waka–Victoria University of Wellington, with researchers from NIWA, Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, and the University of Auckland, funded by the Deep South Challenge: Changing with our Climate.

The research explores how triggers and signals for coastal and riverine flooding can give councils enough time to develop adaptation actions. They can create this time by making sure they build signals and trigger points into climate change planning in their local area as soon as possible, rather than waiting until costly damage is sustained due to climate change and response systems are overwhelmed, at which point dealing with these impacts is costly and challenging, Dr Lawrence says.

The research also shows the importance of integrating local knowledge and interests into plans tailored for specific areas.

“Our research has shown that signals and triggers for flooding that are tailored for different areas and different socio-economic settings are vital to creating effective adaptation measures and planning for climate change adaptation,” Dr Lawrence says.

The research also shows that different kinds of technical expertise in science, policy, and engagement are crucial to successful adaptation, Dr Lawrence says.

Learn more about the report issued on this research on the Deep South Challenge website.