The Dialogues

A child wearing gumboots in mud.

When it comes to communities exposed to climate change, where does risk and responsibility lie?

Facilitated by Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, these dialogues aim to develop a shared understanding of key issues, to map current knowledge about them, to identify creative ideas to address them, and to pose well-formulated research questions. In this way, the dialogue process creates a more informed policy and research environment.

The dialogue process involves two full-day meetings, around six weeks apart, for 20 participants from industry, government, iwi, the research community and civil society. Motu aims to have a mix of expertise and a diversity of gender, age and culture in the room. Participants attend as individuals, rather than as representatives of their organisations.

Throughout the dialogue, participants prioritise up to six questions, which are publicised (in a closed request for proposal process) to involved or recommended researchers. We invite proposals of around $100,000 per question, and aim to fund two to three proposals per dialogue.


First dialogue: Insurance, coastal housing and climate adaptation

This dialogue was held in February-March 2017, and a report was published in June: Insurance, Coastal Housing and Climate Adaptation, led by Ilan Noy and Belinda Storey from Victoria University of Wellington. The report highlights how climate change may challenge our existing insurance arrangements and was covered widely by the media including by the NZ Herald, Newsroom and the Science Media Centre.

One of the key messages of the report is that New Zealanders should be aware, especially when purchasing property in “vulnerable” areas, that such properties may “become difficult to sell or insure. Homeowners could experience significant losses and displacement following a [single] disaster… or following a series of smaller events that accumulate to large losses.”

The first research proposals to emerge from the dialogue have been funded.


Second dialogue: Stormwater & wastewater infrastructure

The asset value of stormwater and wastewater assets in New Zealand is well over $20 billion. This includes 24,000 kilometres of public wastewater networks with more than 3,000 pumping stations, and over 17,000 kilometres of stormwater networks. Much of it, however, was not designed for the challenges climate change will bring, from sea level rise to the predicted changes in precipitation frequency and intensity.

This dialogue resulted in the October 2017 Climate Change and Stormwater and Wastewater Systems report, which garnered significant media attention. Report co-author Professor Iain White and Water NZ CEO John Pfahlert appeared on Newshub/TV3. The report was also covered by the NZ Herald, the Dominion Post (see the online version here), Breakfast (TVNZ) and the NBR (paywalled). A blogpost about the report was published in the Spinoff.

Research questions have been formulated and distributed and we’re awaiting research proposals.


Third dialogue: Flood-prone communities and sea level rise

Managed retreat from coastal areas is already a political issue in Kāpiti, Dunedin, the West Coast and the Bay of Plenty. More generally, the experience of the red-zone in Christchurch has demonstrated the complexities involved with moving whole communities. Resolving those difficulties is critical to lessen the social and financial risks of managed retreat.

We are briefing stakeholders and releasing the report, and associated research, throughout April 2018.


Fourth dialogue: Drought management

Drought is the chief climate impact raised by agricultural stakeholders. We’re currently planning this dialogue, and we’re looking at posing these kinds of questions: How can we better manage more frequent and more severe droughts? Could drought insurance be improved? What is the role of storage and irrigation? Can we develop more drought resistant cultivars and land uses? We aim to hold this dialogue before mid-2018.


Fifth Dialogue: Urban and freight transport

Like water, our transport infrastructure is developed over long timeframes. We’re now planning this dialogue and aim to hold it before mid-2018.


Future dialogues

Possible future dialogue topics (many of which have strong crossovers with the other National Science Challenges) include:

  • Climate change and biosecurity risks (pest management, food safety)
  • Climate change and health (heat waves, tropical diseases)
  • Drinking water (security and quality of supply in Auckland and in smaller communities)
  • Opportunities (new land uses and economic activities)


Getting involved in future dialogues

  • Let us know if you’re a researcher or industry stakeholder and would like to participate in any of our upcoming dialogues. Note we have very limited capacity, but would love to hear from you.
  • Let us know if you want to be considered as a potential researcher in our closed request for proposal process. Note we can only invite very small number of researchers to submit, so candidates should be leaders in the field and possess the necessary research experience and skills.
  • Let us know if you have future Dialogue ideas.

Contact: Sally Owen, Motu Economic and Public Policy Research |

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