Why the Climate Change Pilot in Northland Needs Urgent Attention

Climate Change-New Nealand

The Kaipara District Council has halted the landmark community pilot in Ruawai, Northland, despite community pleas for its continuation. The pilot, which began in 2021, covers 8,000ha and is a model for local community adaptation to climate change. Ruawai was chosen by Northland’s four councils as the region’s first pilot location, providing information and modelling for other New Zealand councils.

The decision came after a polarised debate, with councillors Ash Nayaar, Pera Paniora, Mark Vincent, and Eryn Wilson-Collins voting against it. Former Kaipara mayor and Ruawai farmer Greg Gent argued that the pilot focused too much on detail, when it should have focused on a more global higher-level picture. The decision came after an hour-long debate.

Former Kaipara Deputy Mayor Anna Curnow has urged the council to stop the pilot of a climate adaptation programme, which is vital for the people of Ruawai and other settlements at risk from climate change impacts. Over 800 people from Ruawai, New Zealand and overseas signed Curnow’s petition to save the council’s climate adaptation programme.

The council has initiated public consultation for its 2024-2027 Long Term Plan budget, following the pilot “pause” and ensuring it is ready by June. The council’s lawyer warned that the word ‘pause’ could be legally viewed as another word for stopping the pilot. Public consultation will be taking place with the new Long Term Plan. Council member Jepson stated that the $70,000 remaining in its 2023-2024 budget would be better spent on the Raupo drainage scheme.

Mayor Jepson has criticised the media, education system, and Northland Regional Council for their inaccurate predictions and interpretations of climate change impacts. The regional council has contributed money and technical support to the pilot, which was based on NRC figures used for Ruawai flooding risk and sea level rise figures. However, NRC rivers manager Joseph Camuso confirmed the accuracy of the council’s figures, citing feedback from Ruawai catchment farmers following Cyclone Gabrielle and similar results in the Awakino area. Green MP Hūhana Lyndon from Tai Tokerau expressed disappointment at the council’s decision to effectively can the pilot and suggested further discussion in Wellington. The council’s staff report recommended continuing with the pilot and funding until June 2024.

Wilson-Colins and Paniora attempted to establish the staff recommendation as the basis for the pilot decision-making debate. However, Jepson rejected this, presenting a new alternate motion that posited a pause in the Ruawai pilot and related spending. Vincent, KDC’s councillor observer, and Paniora pushed for the focus to return to the staff recommendation, with councillors Ash Nayaar, Paniora, and Wilson-Collins supporting this mid-debate push.

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