The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just released its Sixth Assessment Report on climate change. It is now clear that major changes to our planet are already unfolding now, rather than likely to start happening later in the century. What we as human beings choose to do now will determine how 'normal' our lives remain and, frankly, how many people will die prematurely due to climate change-related impacts. However, the report makes it clear that we can still avert large-scale collapse of ecosystems and human societies. In this article we look at what this means from a local government perspective.

A summary of the report for policymakers is available here. 

The report makes for sobering reading. It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2000 years.

The report predicts that in the coming decades climate change will increase in all regions.

It suggests that global warming of 1.5⁰C and 2⁰C will be exceeded during the 21st century unless deep reductions in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions occur in the coming decades. 

The report presents a set of five scenarios, which span a range of possible futures, from making very rapid, immediate, and large-scale cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, to a more pessimistic scenario where we don’t make efforts to mitigate emissions at all.

In each of the five scenarios it’s expected that the 1.5⁰C temperature threshold will be reached or exceeded in the next 20-year period.

However, in the very low emissions scenario – where we reach net zero emissions by the middle of this century – it’s suggested that we would reach the 1.5⁰C temperature and may overshoot it by a small amount, but later in the century the temperature would start to fall and stabilise below the 1.5⁰C threshold. Carbon cuts would need to be dramatic for the overshooting of 1.5⁰C to be only temporary.

All of this demonstrates that climate change is a problem for now, and not for the future.

This makes it critical that Aotearoa works as hard as possible to get emissions to zero as quickly as possible.

Last year Taituarā launched its launched Navigating Critical 21st Century Transitions report to support Local Government professionals to act in an integrated way on the era-scale challenges facing us. It outlined five transitions areas:

  • to low-emissions living
  • to living in a disrupted climate
  • to a low-waste society
  • to community interconnectedness, and
  • to learning-empowered communities.

All of these challenges come together in taking action to change the way we live, work, and connect day by day, week by week in communities. It is in local communities where the impacts will hit home and ‘doing differently’ will actually take place. This means local government has a pivotal role to play in the scale and speed at which we can make critical transitions needed. However, local government needs central government to create the national-level incentives and powers to support this urgently needed change.

The Government’s work to develop its first Emissions Reduction Plan will be vital, and we encourage local government to continue to engage in this work. We also encourage councils to think about how they can measure, report on and reduce their own emissions and support emissions reductions within their communities.

The IPCC’s report demonstrates not only the need to cut gasses, but also the urgent need to start adapting, given the continued weather and climate extremes that we can expect. These include more frequent and intense hot extremes, increased frequency and intensity of heavy precipitation events and increased agricultural and ecological droughts.

This is why the work the Government is doing to develop a National Adaptation Plan and the Climate Change Adaptation Act is vital. Again, we encourage local government to continue to engage with this work.

Councils need to start thinking about how they are preparing for the impacts of climate change, including developing a plan or strategy for improving the resilience of the communities they serve to climate change.

The Ministry for the Environment’s recent report, Adaptation preparedness: 2020/2021 baseline, summarises the responses it received to a request for information on how reporting organisations are preparing for the impacts of climate change, made under section 5ZW of the Climate Change Response Act 2002.

The Ministry received 61 responses from local authorities. 18 per cent of those local authorities have plans or strategies focused on the impacts of climate change, and 46 per cent are in the process of developing one.

This report shows that local government needs to do more to plan for how it will adapt and build its communities’ resilience to the impacts of climate change.

In their responses, local authorities indicated that they need central government to provide further support in the form of:

  • funding to implement a strategy and deliver on the ground actions
  • tools to help quantify impacts from climate change, and
  • guidance on how to assess and consider the impacts of climate change on an organisation.

The report also indicates that there’s more work to be done to build the awareness of decision-makers and educate the wider community on the impacts of climate change.

We’ll continue to support councils with the important work they’re doing to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change, and to make integrated progress across all of the critical transitions and encourage you to sign up to our LGConnect Discussion Groups on Energy, Efficiency and Sustainability and Climate Change Adaptation if you haven’t already.