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Post date: Tuesday, 3 May 2022

Is education part of Aotearoa New Zealand’s national (climate) adaptation plan?

By Rachel Bolstad

May is a crucial month for Aotearoa New Zealand’s climate change response action, with the Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP) and a Budget  to boost climate action due within weeks.

Meanwhile, another piece of the climate response jigsaw puzzle has just been released – the draft national adaptation plan, shaped by the Ministry for the Environment. There  are opportunities to give feedback until 3 June.

I’ve zipped quickly through the 146 pages of this draft plan on behalf of busy educators. 

What is the national adaptation plan?

While emissions reduction plans map out how we can stop putting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (mitigation), national adaptation plans recognise that no matter how quickly we reduce emissions, we are essentially “locked in” to some climate change impacts. 

Incredibly, this is New Zealand’s first national adaptation plan, and thus “for the first time as a nation we can see in one place what is being done already to adapt and proposals for what to do in the future” (p. 7). This adaptation plan and the forthcoming emissions reduction plan, “lay out New Zealand’s overall response to climate change so that we can transition to a low-emissions, climate-resilient future”.

What does the plan say?

The early sections of the plan are big-picture stuff: why we need to change, and vision and principles to guide the change. I'll try to look at these in more detail in another post. For now, let's cut straight to the actions. 

Three focus areas for action

The plan identifies three initial focus areas for action (p. 15):

  1. Reform institutions to be fit for a changing climate
  2. Provide data, information, tools, and guidance to allow everyone to assess and reduce their own climate risks
  3. Embed climate resilience across government strategies and policies.

These areas signal the need for both structural/systemic/centralised changes and actions, and localised/individual/ community changes and actions. Between these different interconnected levels of responsibility and decision-making, there’s some pretty tricky stuff to be worked through, like what will happen with properties at risk of climate impacts, and who will bear those costs. It’s complex.

Six outcome areas

There are six outcome areas where the plan goes into some detail about “why we need to take action”, “what we want to achieve”, and “how we will get there”.

  • System-wide actions
  • Natural environment
  • Homes, buildings, and places
  • Infrastructure
  • Communities
  • Economy and financial system

Is education included in the plan?

Yes, there are several references to education and schools in the “homes, buildings, and places”, “infrastructure” and “communities” sections. The most substantial reference to education is a “supporting action”,  for the Ministry of Education, in the Communities section. Here is the action:

“Strengthen teaching and learning related to climate change: This work will improve community resilience by addressing inequities in learning outcomes and by supporting local curriculums and marau ā-kura to include understanding and responding to climate change. The aim is to support all children and young people to grow as lifelong learners, connected to the environment and communities and actively involved in a sustainable future.” (p.79)

A progress indicator for this action is that “refreshed content in the national curriculum for schooling includes learning important for understanding and responding to climate change by end of 2024.” (p. 138)

This action is intended to support the achievement of objective c1: Enable communities to adapt.

“This means enabling communities, including our Treaty partners, to provide resources and take action relevant to their unique situation, building and sharing knowledge of local issues in culturally appropriate ways, supporting community engagement and participation in decisions and providing information on adaptation options”. (p.77)

I found four other actions in the plan which are also tagged to objective c1, led by different Ministries or agencies.  One of these refers to public education:

Raise awareness of climate-related hazards and how to prepare: By the end of 2024 a public education strategy will be developed for natural hazards and increased availability of information on preparedness for extreme weather events (p. 137)

Another is focussed on community resilience:

Building community resilience through social cohesion: This work will improve inclusion and participation in society and build community resilience to lessen instability and isolation caused by climate change. The aim is to support the understanding of diversity within and across communities to allow everyone to feel safe and belong, and to access opportunities. (p.79)

The remaining references to education and/or schools in the plan relate to the physical infrastructure. The overall vision for infrastructure is that “our infrastructure is resilient to a changing climate, so that it protects or enhances the wellbeing of all New Zealanders” (p. 64). 

  • Schools are noted as a central government asset/infrastructure risk management responsibility and cost (p. 18, p. 32).
  • Education and training facilities are mentioned alongside other infrastructures that are essential to community and social functioning (p. 63).
  • There is a proposed action for MBIE to develop a design methodology for risk assessments of public buildings that includes a focus on ‘social’ infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals and other public assets (p. 60, with a timeframe of 2024-2026 (p. 134)

What does this mean for schools and other learning settings that might be the most at risk due to climate change? I’m not sure yet. I can’t find any specific action for the Ministry of Education around school properties and infrastructure, but presumably this would be linked up with the risk assessment design methodology. There are generally some key high-level messages about “system-wide reforms” in relation to houses, buildings, and places, to “encourage a long-term and proactive view to account for climate change”. (p. 60). 

"For example, resource management reform will support effective spatial planning by promoting development in areas away from climate-related hazards. It will also set out a framework to manage retreat and relocate communities, homes and buildings where risks are seen as unacceptable.

Actions to strengthen ecosystems and to promote the use of indigenous knowledge in the section on natural environment will complement actions to increase the resilience of homes, buildings and places that are alongside the natural environment or include natural sites". (p. 60)

What should we make of this plan?

In terms of the education action signalled in this plan, here’s what I’m pondering after my first fast reading:

  • By using words like “strengthening” and “supporting” and “including”, does the signalled education action sound like a continuation of the current status quo, i.e., schools and communities can choose whether or not to make sustainability and climate a key focus?
  • While it’s great to see young people’s climate-related learning needs recognised, and a curriculum action signalled, many adults in the education workforce (as well as parents and whānau) have not themselves been educated for a changing climate and low-emissions future.  Might the educational workforce need specific and strategic climate transition learning support, and what might this look like?
  • How will “public education” and “public awareness” campaigns work? Do we need a more granular plan about how climate adaptation (and mitigation) education can be organised and delivered to diverse segments of the community?
  • Who is responsible for ensuring that communities have equitable access to climate adaptation and mitigation learning (not just information) to support good local decision-making?
  • What’s next for schools and communities that are already experiencing climate-related risk?

It’s important to remember this plan is about “adaptation” to a changing climate, but we need to remember the urgency of emissions reduction too.  Both emissions reduction and adaptation require big and deep changes to many domains of our lives, learning, and work.

 If you’ve been reading Rose Hipkins’ blogs about teaching for complex systems thinking, you may appreciate how hard it is to shift entrenched systems and norms into new forms built around different core attractors. This is exactly the challenge that we are facing as we are called on to rebuild our society for a climate-changed, low-emissions future.

What do you think? What strengths, weaknesses, gaps, or opportunities do you see in this draft adaptation plan? You can read the whole document and give feedback here.


That’s a good set of questions. Thank you for raising awareness of this challenge for curriculum design. We are trying again this year to attract students for a new Year 12 course. Climate Crisis Leadership failed as an attractive course title. We will look at new variants of this.

Appreciate your feedback, Leanne. Feel free to contact me if you would like to share what you're doing or would like to achieve. That's interesting about the name - I reckon even confident, experienced adults struggle to see themselves as leaders in the climate crisis, I suspect it feels too big, hard, and people often feel out of their depth. Young people may also find it hard to see how they can lead or make change in a problem so big - it's a lot to feel responsible for, especially if the adult population is not demonstrating climate crisis leadership. - or doesn't yet know how to...

Those are great questions, my team are also looking at ways to support the education space and came to the conclusion that providing something for teachers rather than the students may be more beneficial as it's the teachers who drive the learning and excitement for the topics.

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