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Resilient River Communities

'A FRAGILE WIN’ - A Touch and go conclusion to COP26 Glasgow

The world’s ability to limit climate change to a 1.5C rise in global temperature is being questioned after the United Nation’s COP26 meeting in Glasgow failed to make the significant breakthrough many were hoping for. This result will have an impact on how regional government in New Zealand meets the threat of rising sea levels, more severe storms and other weather events.

The November conference saw climate negotiators from nearly 200 countries haggle over a fortnight to reach consensus on urgent action to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees centigrade. Efforts to move away from widespread use of coal ran into a last-minute obstacle when India, backed by China and other coal-dependent nations, rejected a clause calling for the “phase out” of coal-fired power.

Hurried negotiations saw the clause amended to asking countries to instead “phase down” coal use.

COP26 president Alok Sharma admitted the final agreement may not be enough.

“The pulse of 1.5 is weak,” Mr Sharma said in his closing remarks.

“This is a fragile win. We have kept 1.5 alive. That was our overarching objective when we set off on this journey two years ago,” he said.

“What this will be judged on, is not just the fact that countries have signed up, but on whether they meet and deliver on the commitments.

“The hard work starts now.”

Glasgow was the 26th such international meeting to address climate change, giving the meeting its name – Conference of Parties 26.

Delegates were bluntly told by small maritime nations that curbing global temperatures was now urgent if they were to avoid being submerged by rising sea levels. At the start of the conference, Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley said for his country and other small island states, ‘two degrees is a death sentence’.

New Zealand’s delegation was led by Climate Change Minister James Shaw who used his conference speech to reinforce Prime Minister Mottley’s message.

“Aotearoa New Zealand’s closest neighbours are among those first and worst hit by the climate crisis, but who have contributed the least to global emissions,” Mr Shaw said.

“To illustrate what this means, last year our government was asked to assist a Pacific nation with the massive task of moving 42 villages inland, away from the rising waves. 

“For some this isn’t even an option. Villages in low-lying countries like Tuvalu, Tokelau and Kiribati have nowhere inland to go.

“New Zealand will continue to lead by example here, and show the world what meaningful, ambitious and lasting climate action looks like,” James Shaw said. 

The outcome of COP26 and James Shaw’s pledge have implications for New Zealand local government already struggling to cope with increasingly severe weather events and rising sea levels. Before the conference, the Ardern Government began public consultation on what to include in New Zealand’s first ever Emissions Reduction Plan. It released a discussion document Te hau mārohi ki anamata - Transitioning to a low-emissions and climate-resilient future, with consultation ending on 24 November.

The document points to work already underway between Kānoa – RDU and local government as an example of how to tackle climate change. It suggests building on programmes such as the Kānoa Regional Economic Development Partnerships and investigating the Regional Strategic Partnerships Fund’s potential to accelerate “equitable regional transitions.”

It also suggests deploying more intensive support to help those transitions in communities and regions needing more assistance, as well as a new Climate Adaptation Act to address managed retreat. The Climate Resilience Advisory Board is already working with local government on protecting regional communities, using $211 million to fund 55 separate river protection and flood resilience projects across 14 regions.