Next steps in climate change strategy

Opinion: A consensus for adaptation is easier and cheaper than taking expensive and unfair mitigation measures.

Building political consensus around the functions of the Climate Change Commission will be essential if it is to endure across multiple political cycles.

Ultimately, this will need to cover the two main climate change commitments – mitigation (reducing GHG emissions) and adaptation (limiting the impacts of climate change).

Adaptation is the best place to start because its benefits are tangible to all and the initial costs are relatively low. The benefits of mitigation are less tangible, the costs are a lot higher and they are not evenly distributed.

The Climate Change Adaptation Technical Working Group’s final report includes specific recommendations on the role of the independent commission in leading the adaptation strategy.

This is to develop a nationally consistent set of data, risk assessment and management strategy. David Prentice, chairman of the Interim Climate Change Committee, should take this as a lifeline and grab it with both hands.

It will be a lot easier to get political consensus on adaptation than the mitigation steps recommended by the Productivity Commission.

It will be important to show progress on the Zero Carbon Bill in negotiations of a free-trade agreement with the European Union. It has already indicated that this is a factor to consider. Trade deals are long term so the bill needs a consensus that is likely to endure.

The bill is also part of the Paris climate change commitments.

Building consensus around the mitigation commitments is difficult because:

• they are costly to deliver;

• the cost falls disproportionally on the rural sector (traditional supporters of National and NZ First); and

• the benefits are intangible (it's mostly about doing our bit and getting an EU trade deal for being world citizens).

By contrast building consensus around adaptation should be easier because:

• the tangible benefits (nobody likes to see pictures of flooded homes or be in one);

• although expensive, eventually it is still a lot cheaper than mitigation; and

• the initial steps are low cost (assessing risks and developing management strategies).

The Productivity Commission’s draft report assumes no access to international carbon markets. The costs, in the absence of a magic bullet for agricultural emissions and the real barriers of reducing transport emissions, are high and will be borne mostly by the rural sector and the poor.

The best strategy may be to pursue solutions to these barriers in agriculture and transport now, in the hope of making consensus easier to reach eventually.

By contrast, the adaptation working group has identified some urgent and immediate areas for action. These are not hugely expensive, certainly in the millions not many billions, at this point. More importantly, they recognise the need to engage communities in the process.

Neil Walbran is an engineering consultant with 35 years’ experience in the power industry. He has previously written about the need for cost-benefit studies of climate change policies.

This is supplied content and not commissioned or paid for by NBR.

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