Whakatane River Mouth

As of 30 November 2022 the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) has been amended to require local government to ‘have regard to’ the National Adaptation Plan (NAP) and the Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP) when preparing or changing a regional policy statement or plan under the RMA.

Before then, local government when developing regional policy statements or plans was required to ‘have regard to’ the effects of climate change (such as the effects of more frequent storm events on infrastructure). However, there was no specific context or climate change related plans to have regard to, and local authorities were precluded from considering the effects of greenhouse gas discharges on climate change in both consenting and planning.

These preclusions have now been repealed from the RMA, and the RMA has been amended to require local authorities to ‘have regard to’ the NAP and ERP. The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) has released a guidance note to assist local authorities in meeting this latter requirement.

Guidance on the National Adaptation Plan

The NAP sets long-term adaptation strategies for New Zealand to build resilience for an uncertain future, addressing the effects of climate change. The NAP works alongside the ERP, which is instead focused on reducing emissions or the effects on climate change – known as mitigation.

MfE’s guidance note contains some examples for how local government can support NZ’s long term adaptation strategy and goals in RMA planning processes:

  • Reduce NZ’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change eg. considering the location of activities and people.
  • Encourage the consideration of climate change at all levels eg. developing and implementing long-term adaptation plans.
  • Strengthen NZ’s resilience to climate impacts eg. raising floor levels above projected flood levels.

Local government is also encouraged to consider the NAP’s four immediate priorities when setting their own planning priorities:

  • Enable better risk-informed decisions including by referring to up to date government data on climate risks when updating and implementing plans and assessments.
  • Drive climate-resilient development in the right locations including by implementing the NZ Coastal Policy Statement 2010, the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 and developing future development strategies or working with major infrastructure providers and developers on long-term plans.
  • Consider adaptation options including by considering or planning for managed retreat, especially for coastal communities.
  • Embedding Government climate resilience strategies and policies.

The NAP also recommends using two (at least) of the five Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change climate change scenarios to assess hazards and risks. It recommends:

  • Use the “middle-of-the-road” scenario (reflects moderate emissions and implementation of current global emissions reduction policies) and the “fossil-fuel intensive development scenario” (reflects high emissions and limited mitigation measures with no global emissions reduction policies) – which some may recognise as “RCP8.5” or “SSP5-8.5”.
  • Screening hazard and risk assessments for coastal impacts up to 2130 – RCP8.5 or SSP5-8.5.

Guidance on the Emissions Reduction Plan

The ERP is a set of strategies and policies that aids in NZ meeting its emissions budget and the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. In this way it is focussed on reducing greenhouse gas emissions or climate change mitigation.

There are five guiding principles for the ERP, and MfE’s guidance note sets out how local government can support these principles in planning processes under the RMA. For example, one of the principles is focussed on nature-based solutions and the guidance recommends that these be prioritised and encouraged. It gives examples such as using blue green infrastructure in urban environments, or restoring coastal wetlands or dunes instead of building a sea wall to combat rising sea levels and severe weather events.

The guidance note also contains some commentary on how planning under the RMA can support the ERP’s sector plans – which are provided for the transport, energy and industry, building and construction, agricultural, forestry, waste and fluorinated gases sectors.

Please get in touch if you would like to learn more about this change and how it could affect you. The guidance note can be found here: https://environment.govt.nz/news/rma-guidance-note-for-local-government-on-the-national-adaptation-plan-and-emissions-reduction-plan/.