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Climate change and disaster resilience

Sean Audain from the Wellington City Council discusses their approach to preparing the city for climate change.
And if you think about the city like a body, those patterns result in a healthy life. When those patterns go awry, they can result in ill health. The problem you have in a resilience case is how do you survive and thrive when those patterns are causing you to effectively suffer more trauma that you can heal from. In the resilience space we tend to think of shocks and stresses. So, shocks are things like big storms, earthquakes, they’re the classic natural disaster. Stresses are the things that can erode your ability to respond to those things over time. So, things like growing inequality or housing stress, those kinds of things.
And so our Resilience Program and our Chief Resilience Officer have been essentially leading the city’s effort in how do we respond to that. And the Smart City programs have been giving them new tools and ways of engaging to meet those challenges. [Chris Vas]: But how important and how involved were the community in discussions with the City Council on this particular challenge? [Sean Audain]: So, if you look at the strategic level our Resilience Strategy was consulted with thousands of citizens, different Government bodies, and different industry groups in a very open process. Then the solutions that have been evolved have been worked with, with different community groups.
And some of those solutions have been at the more, at the higher level and some of them have been interventions in particular communities. And then you’ve got the latest round, which is the Te Atakura, the First to Zero program, which is designed to get the city to carbon zero. And again, that’s been one of the biggest consultation exercises in the city’s history. [Chris Vas]: And where in this particular challenge did, did you or the city identify there was a need for technology and technological intervention to, to tackle the challenge? [Sean Audain]: With climate change you’re looking at the most complex natural process we know of, interacting with one of the most complex human artefacts we create, a city.
And so, the key thing for the Smart City programs has been helping people see what that means to them. So, we’d developed a large three-dimensional model of the city. So, what we had done it taken Council’s pre-existing geospatial work, fused it with data from Central Government to the Regional Council, our surrounding cities, and then applied our sensor data and weather data to it. And what that meant was that citizens could stand in their front garden, they could walk to work as a giant, and see what happened when sea levels began to rise. What that did was it started that conversation in a place they understood, in the life they lead.
And that meant that when we were engaging with them on issues around ‘This is what it does to the drainage network’, ‘This is what climate change starts to do to the city’s financial stability’, ‘This is why it’s a problem for us’. They could say, ‘Well, yes, that’s how that problem relates to my life’, which became a much more powerful narrative to drag that strategy through. Some of the other uses have been a little bit more sort of mundane. So, taking different scientific data, applying a constant ability to visualise it, and then using that to inform community groups. So, a good example is following Cyclone Giselle the settlement of Makara on the city’s west coast was quite badly damaged.
What was done there is a community council was formed from the families in that area that were affected and a bunch of Council Officers were sent to assist them. And they were joined by Officers from the Regional Council and from different Government research agencies. What they’ve done is worked through and created a plan to effectively respond to that infrastructure damage but also understand what are the climate change impacts and sea level rise impacts for Makara in the long term. The Smart City program was just a bit player in that and our main job was to translate between all those technical languages and get that community in a place where they could make a decision.
So, they would tell us about how it affected their garden. And what it did was it started to get them to understand the decisions that they had to make themselves about their own property and then the decisions they expected us to make as a city. And it’s fair to say that’s an evolving conversation, but it’s a conversation that needs to be had if we’re going to meet this threat. [Chris Vas]: Have other Councils across New Zealand participated in that initiative? I mean, given some of the commonality in the challenge itself. [Sean Audain]: Yes.
So, we’ve shared a common platform with, with the Councils that surround us, and part of that was a test by our own department to understand can you get multiple agencies to participate in the same platform. But it hasn’t spread beyond the sort of metropolitan Wellington area. [Chris Vas]: Right. How did you get the wider community and the youths involved in tackling this challenge? [Sean Audain]: So, getting the youth involved in tackling climate change isn’t really a challenge. It’s fair to say it’s the animating problem of a whole generation. The way we engaged with them was through things like the Climathon which is held every year, and that’s getting people together in teams coming up with solutions for climate change.
That’s as much about people understanding how complex this problem is and how to split it up as it is about actually finding a solution. There’s also things like the Carbon Zero challenge, which is more of a business accelerator. And what it is, is about transitioning from thinking about carbon and thinking about climate change as a thing in itself, to thinking about it as an aspect of everything we do. So, I’d draw a parallel between climate change and health and safety. We used to employ a whole bunch of people who’s job it was to do health and safety. We still employ a couple of people to do that, but now it’s very well understood that’s everybody’s job.
So, finding stable, long term database methods of doing that has been a challenge for us. The other area that’s been a bit of a challenge is understanding the increasingly complex scientific picture. So, if you think about climate change ten years ago, we were all worried about carbon dioxide – we still are. But now we also understand there are other types of emissions that are problematic. And how you communicate those other types of emissions in a city context, again, is a challenge. [Chris Vas]: Fantastic. Thanks for sharing with us the details of this particular case, Sean. [Sean Audain]: Thanks Chris.

Sean Audain, from the Wellington city council, discusses how Wellington worked with the community to develop a resilience strategy and how the solutions and interventions were deployed.

As you engage with the conversation, think about its relevance to your city challenges. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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