He aha te mea nui o te ao / What is the most important thing in the world?

The start of 2023 has been a testing one, with the Auckland Anniversary floods and Cyclone Gabrielle giving us a stark reminder of the sheer force of nature and the unpredictable impacts of climate change.

The visible impacts on our homes, communities and businesses, coupled with the knowledge that these kinds of events will only become more frequent and extreme, has been sobering.

It has also stimulated important debate about our collective climate response.

Much of the kōrero has centred on the resilience of our built infrastructure to cope with these kinds of events and the relative focus we should be placing on adaptation versus mitigation.

I firmly believe it is not a ‘more of one, less of the other’ situation. We need to do both equally. We must continue efforts to reduce emissions whilst we adapt, otherwise climate-related weather events will continue to get worse, impacts on our whānau will escalate and the investment required for repairs and rebuilds will keep ratcheting up.

For me, there is a much deeper question that needs addressing: What does it mean to be truly resilient to the broad range of climate impacts that we are likely to see?

Kia manawaroa / Building resilience

We know the impacts of climate change are here. We know we need to change how, what and where we build to minimise the disruption (and costs) associated with these impacts.

More extreme floods and cyclones are not the only physical climate impacts we face. We are also going to have to deal with coastal inundation from sea level rise, more droughts and forest fires and extreme heat.

Globally, our changing climate conditions are likely to lead to a wide range of social and economic impacts, from food scarcity to new health challenges, increased hardship, industrial obsolescence and climate-induced migration. While New Zealand might be less susceptible to some of these impacts than others, we know that building resilience is crucial to our future.

At Kāinga Ora, we’re making changes to the way we operate to ensure our homes are more resilient to the physical impacts of climate change. We're looking at how increasing ngahere/tree cover can help reduce heat impacts in our neighbourhoods, and have constructed our first Passive House development to help address both under and over-heating, and used low carbon concrete to minimise greenhouse gas emissions/our climate impact.

In major development areas such as Roskill, we’re capitalising on nature-based solutions to increase an area’s ‘sponginess’. A great example is the newly completed Freeland Reserve, which now provides stormwater treatment and mitigation for about two-thirds of the entire Roskill South neighbourhood, doing its job beautifully during the Auckland floods to hold back an extraordinary amount of stormwater that would otherwise have drowned backyards and homes.

This is necessary, important work but there is a cost involved in making our homes and infrastructure more resilient and it is unlikely that we can engineer or build our way out of all risk.

There will continue to be instances of extreme weather that exceed our design expectations, especially if we fail to curb the worst impacts of climate change through significant reduction of our greenhouse gas emissions.

So, to be truly resilient to the broad range of climate impacts that we are likely to see, it is critical that our resilience-building efforts are not limited to our built form and to physical interventions.

We must also invest in the one piece of infrastructure that is always called upon to respond, regardless of the type and nature of event – our social and community fabric.

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata / What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people.

We saw the strength of communities that are inclusive and cohesive during and after the Auckland floods and Cyclone Gabrielle. But creating cohesion and community resilience requires investment and outreach.

For a social housing provider like Kāinga Ora it means investing in local events, and creating places and spaces—such as community rooms, shared green spaces and community gardens—that connect our increasingly diverse communities. It means outreach across a range of different formats and forums that seek to understand and respond to this diversity; drawing people together rather than pushing them apart.

At a time where we are increasingly focused on physical and tangible outputs, we need to remember the importance of intangible outcomes. Stronger, thriving communities that work for and with each other can be more resilient to challenges of food scarcity, new health challenges, industry change and climate-induced migration.

True resilience to the broad range of climate impacts that we are likely to see, will take a multi-faceted and collective response.

For an agency like Kāinga Ora that has multiple roles and responsibilities in terms of providing safe, quality, resilient homes for whānau, it means we need to deliver on a trifecta of actions.

We need to reduce our emissions to help minimise the scale of scale of climate impacts. We need physical interventions to improve how, what and where we build. And we need to invest in social and community resilience, to support each other through crisis response and to navigate the longer terms shifts and transitions that will be driven by climate change.

We all have a role to play in building climate resilience. What we need to work out now is how we can collaborate and work together to build a more resilient New Zealand where no one is left behind.

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