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Waikato project to help people adapting to climate change

Waikato project to help people confront realities of adapting to climate change


A team of University of Waikato academics have launched a new research project that will engage with New Zealanders about preparing for the impacts of climate change. Pictured from left: Professor Debashish Munshi; Professor Priya Kurian; and Associate Professor Sandy Morrison.

A team of researchers at the University of Waikato has won a $270,000 research grant from the Deep South National Science Challenge to engage with a wide range of New Zealanders about how we can all better prepare for the future impacts of climate change.

The two-year research project will also explore how people’s own cultural values shape and influence their adaptation strategies to the new realities of climate change.

“Climate change is happening whether we like it or not,” says co-lead investigator Professor Debashish Munshi of Waikato Management School, an expert on public engagement and issues of social justice.

“People need reliable, up-to-date information to be able to make important decisions about their future. Yet many vulnerable businesses and communities in New Zealand are struggling to understand how they should respond to the significant threats that climate change poses to our economy, our social fabric, our cultural traditions and way of life,” says Professor Munshi.

The Waikato-based project team also includes co-lead investigator Professor Priya Kurian, a political scientist (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences); Associate Professor Sandy Morrison, an expert on indigenous development issues (Faculty of Māori and Indigenous Studies); and Dr Lyn Kathlene, a US-based expert on public engagement methodologies (Spark Policy Institute).

The team’s extensive research will include a series of ‘citizen panels’ with a variety of business and community groups across New Zealand – such as farmers, small-to-medium business owners, tourism operators, Māori iwi and hapu, and residents living in coastal or low-lying areas – to find out what people already know about climate change, and work on a range of future scenarios to deal with climate change events such as extreme weather, flooding rivers and rising sea levels.

“Successful public engagement in science is not only about communicating information, but also understanding what the public already know, what they need to know, and their different cultural values and attitudes towards climate change,” says Professor Kurian.

Associate Professor Morrison adds: “For example, we’re conscious of the strong interest that Māori have in debates about climate action and looking at environmental issues, as well as the impact on traditional cultural practices such as weaving and food gathering.”

The research team will help each group to develop proactive strategies and a practical action plan for addressing the specific impacts of climate change they face. “For some people, climate change is an immediate reality that requires urgent action,” says Professor Munshi.

In 2019, the research team will prepare a report outlining their recommendations for local councils and government, which they hope will contribute to better informed decision-making around climate change adaptation.

The University of Waikato-based project is one of four new climate change adaptation projects announced by the Deep South National Science Challenge this month, totalling more than $1 million in funding. The mission of the Challenge is to enable New Zealanders to adapt, manage risk, and thrive in a changing climate.

Professor Munshi and Professor Kurian are currently writing a book on ‘Climate Futures’ with academics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. This leads on from an international symposium on ‘Climate Futures: Re-imagining Global Climate Justice they organised in Italy in 2015, with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation.

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