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.”

Three research projects 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.

This report highlighted several main effects of climate change on our stormwater and wastewater systems, including changes in extreme rainfall and drought, and for coastal infrastructure, sea level rise and increasing severity and frequency of coastal storms. The top priorities for further research are to better understand the risks to stormwater and wastewater systems (including indirect effects); identify when, where and why particular areas may be at risk; and identify new solutions, so we can incorporate adaptations within our decision making frameworks.

A research project, answering the first question, has been funded.


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.

This dialogue was held in May–June 2017, and yielded the paper Communities and climate change: Vulnerability to rising seas and more frequent flooding. The paper highlighted the need to understand vulnerability and resilience in a climate change context, how to allocate decision-making roles and responsibilities in relation to vulnerable communities, how effective flood mitigation schemes can be in protecting communities, and the roles of councils, iwi and community groups in anticipating and responding to climate-related challenges. 

Two proposals that emerged from the dialogue have been funded.


Fourth dialogue: Drought management

Drought is the chief climate impact raised by agricultural stakeholders. This dialogue was held in May–June 2018, and focused on understanding drought adaptation issues in New Zealand. The resulting Drought and Climate Change Adaptation: Impacts and Projections paper was published in November 2018. It suggests that New Zealand is not well-prepared to cope with a future involving more drought in some areas. Future drought may well have the single most significant future impact on the New Zealand economy. The report was covered widely in the media, including in Stuff NZ and the NZ Herald.

The report took a people-centred view of the impacts of droughts and identified several top priority research questions, one of which has been developed into a research project led by Wageed Kamish from Tonkin + Taylor:


Fifth Dialogue: Urban and freight transport

Climate change threatens to disrupt transport networks through, for example, coastal road inundation or surfaces deteriorating under extreme heat exposure. Such disruptions constrain transport opportunities and may isolate regions due to broken network links. This dialogue explored the implications of climate change for New Zealand’s transport network and considered adaptation strategies in the context of long-lived and large-scale infrastructure projects.

This dialogue was held in July–August 2018 and the report is due to be published early 2019.


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: Waverley Jones | [email protected]

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