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Hodgson: Opening Address To Climate Change Forum

Hodgson: Opening Address To Climate Change Forum

Hon Pete Hodgson's speech
Opening address to international climate change adaptation workshop

Good morning and welcome. It is a great honour for New Zealand and our neighbours Australia to host this workshop. New Zealand, Australia and the many countries represented here today face a range of similar problems in adapting to the effects of climate change. That is why we have gathered.

Last year's heatwave and recent floods and storms in Europe, as well as hurricanes in the US, have been timely reminders that even the most developed and industrialised countries are vulnerable to severe climate events.

New Zealand has its own list. Two major floods this year and a number of significant droughts over the past few years have given us a glimpse into the future. Scientists tell us we can expect more weather events of greater severity with increased frequency in the future.

How do we best adapt to the effects of climate change?

New Zealand relies heavily on an equable climate for its prosperity. Agriculture is one of our major industries and a key source of employment and income. Many of our rural communities are scheduled to become increasingly vulnerable to droughts, floods, cyclones or storm surges.

That is why Australian farmers' leader, Peter Corish said in August that climate change is possibly the biggest risk facing Australian farmers in the coming century.

As well as farming, New Zealand's built environment, like everybody else's, is also going to have to adapt. As Minister of Transport I have to think about coastal erosion from sea level rise. As Minister of Energy I have to think whether or not transmission towers taking power to the North Island - South Island link might be blown down by record wind events, as indeed they were this January. Local government have to ensure that suburbs aren't built on areas that might become new flood plains, or that new sewerage systems don't become tidal before they become obsolete.

What then should government's role be in dealing with the effects of climate change? What role is there for central government in supporting local government and different sectors of the economy?

The challenge is to know when to offer information, advice, guidance, set instructions to follow or even to regulate.

Local government in New Zealand plays a major role in the management of environmental hazards and resources. But central government has acted to put adaptation to climate change firmly on their agenda. Earlier this year we made it a legal requirement for councils to consider the effects of climate change in environmental resource management. Then, a few months ago, we distributed regional climate change data and indicated the range of temperature and rainfall changes we expect in 2030 and 2080. We also provided guidance on how this could be used by local government for planning purposes.

But we have a long way to go. More work needs to be done to fully understand the impact of climate change on the economy, on businesses of all sizes and on individual New Zealand communities.

We don't have all the answers yet, but we do know that it's always easier and cheaper to walk than be pushed. That is, to think ahead and take small steps doing what is sensible now, rather than being forced into making massive changes at short notice.

This is what adaptation is all about. Getting a sense of future risks and opportunities, and doing our best to reduce your vulnerability to climate change, rather than becoming locked into an unsustainable business practice. Adaptation is part of sustainable development - it's difficult, it's complex, but it's also necessary to ensure our future prosperity.

Doing nothing is not an option. Climate change is coming ready or not.

Of course, like all nations we are active on the mitigation side of the debate and have a long list of policies already in place and starting to show some modest effect. A meeting on adaptation is not the time to talk about mitigation, so I will keep my remarks brief. Mitigation is hard, but it is crucial.

The reason it is crucial, globally, is because to the extent it succeeds, it will reduce the worst effects of climate change and give adaptation itself a chance to succeed too. To the extent to which the global CO2 level plateaus at some lower level than business as usual, we will have reduced the extent of sea level rise or the chances of abrupt climate change.

So adaptation and mitigation are thus linked. Climate change has begun, just. Even if we reduce fossil fuel use dramatically and soon, the change process is already underway. Adaptation is already known to be needed. The problem you and I face is that the extent of climate change is not yet known with precision. Predictions are presented giving a range of probable change. Even though the direction, the tendency and the broad picture are well known, the extent of change in 10 or 100 years is simply not well known.

And that is the conundrum we all face. If policies to reduce emissions are to be remotely effective, then they must bite and hold decades before the problem they seek to mitigate arrives. It is frankly not part of human nature to think that far in advance, yet the nature of climate change demands it.

As British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in September: "Its likely effect will not be felt to its full extent until after the time for the political decisions that need to be taken has passed. It is now that timely action can avert disaster."

So too with adaptation. If we don't think and act well ahead then adaptation will not be a success. Yet all of us must set aside time to deal with the much more important issues of tomorrow as we go about dealing with the urgent issues of today. How we do that, in each of our nations, in each of our communities is why you are here. Needless to say, I wish you very well with your deliberations.


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