Approach to climate change hailed by watchdog

South Dunedin has been heralded by New Zealand’s climate watchdog as a shining example of people working together locally to tackle climate change, as the low-lying suburb gears up for more community consultation about its future next week.

A Climate Change Commission (CCC) team has spent three days in South Dunedin this week, collecting information for a report to central government that will feature a case study on the suburb and its approach to climate change planning.

CCC chief executive Jo Hendy said the trip had demonstrated "community and council working together and how critical that is", as well as the importance of provision of science-based information.

The visit had been important for understanding "what was happening on the ground" to enable adaptation and a transition to a net carbon zero future.

"We need to have a national understanding of what our strategy is as a country, but adaptation is inherently local and it needs to be driven by the aspirations of local communities."

The commission’s report, due in August, aims to monitor progress towards the government’s climate adaptation plan, adopted in 2022. The case study on South Dunedin could help inform national understanding of local action, said Ms Hendy.

There was a chance, through South Dunedin’s collaborative approach, to determine shared aspirations and plans and "build something really great for the future. It is not all about hard things — it is about the opportunity to create communities that are really thriving."

Climate Change Commission chief executive Jo Hendy. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Climate Change Commission chief executive Jo Hendy. PHOTO: ODT FILES
While she could not prescribe what communities planned, it was important that people making decisions and planning investment were working to "transition to that low-emission future as well as building community resilience". It was vital that people "don’t think about these things as silos", she said.

A five-week, council-led community consultation about South Dunedin’s future will begin on Tuesday with an online survey and a leaflet drop. The consultation, which will also include meetings, will discuss 16 approaches identified as possibilities to combat the impact of continued sea level rise and rain storms.

The approaches were merged from 280 ideas from the community and approaches already used around the globe.

The consultation is administered by South Dunedin Future, a partnership between Dunedin City Council and Otago Regional Council that aims to produce a community-supported plan by 2026.

On their tour of South Dunedin, CCC staff met with community leaders, University of Otago academics and science agency GNS.

A report out earlier this month from GNS provided further information about the challenge of managing water in South Dunedin, due to rising sea level and rain storms.

South Dunedin Community Network spokeswoman Eleanor Doig said it had been a "real privilege" to meet with the CCC and the network had been able to "explain how well it was working here in terms of engagement, which is unusual nationally. The council should be commended for resourcing this sort of community engagement".

Ms Doig said she was "excited" about the opportunity in South Dunedin to further engage in "a really creative urban design process that allows us to live with the water safely and help New Zealand achieve net zero carbon at the same time".

Due to the need to fund change, central government "is going to have to come to the party, too," she said.

South Dunedin Future lead Jonathan Rowe said he was "really pleased" the CCC had visited and would include South Dunedin as a case study in its report.

"It’s important that national level agencies understand what climate adaptation looks like at a grass roots level," he said.

"We hope the commission’s report will help central government to better understand the challenges and opportunities in South Dunedin, and support our efforts to give South Dunedin a safer and better future."