Adapting to climate change

Climate change presents significant opportunities, challenges and risks to Canterbury, and the rest of New Zealand. As the Regional Council, Environment Canterbury's role is to support the region and our communities to better understand and proactively respond to climate change risks and opportunities.

Canterbury coastline

What is adaptation?

Climate change adaptation is preparing for the impacts of climate change to protect our people, environment and the economy – you can read more about adaptation to climate change on the Ministry for the Environment's website, including information about the first national climate change risk assessment that is underway.

Adaptation work in key areas

A climate change integration programme was included in the 2018-28 Long-Term Plan, ensuring climate change is actively considered across workstreams, increasing visibility of the science and impact of climate change on Canterbury. This includes working with iwi and regional partners, other local authorities, and central government.

Here's the adaptation work taking place across key areas.


Native bushOur work in the biodiversity area, prioritised biodiversity protection in the 2018-2028 Long Term Plan, involves the preservation and safeguarding of our landscapes, ecology and cultural heritage values. The changing climate may directly affect native species through changing climatic conditions and reducing, or shifting, habitats.

We work with landowners and communities to protect and restore the natural environment, by providing funding to support ecological projects, undertaking restoration projects, and providing pest, land and water management advice and support. Read about our work within the natural environment.

The effects of climate change on ecosystems and biodiversity were incorporated in the development of the Biodiversity Strategy for the Canterbury Region. The strategy was developed in 2008, by an advisory group of representatives from various Canterbury organisations, including Environment Canterbury, district councils, central government agencies, research and conservation organisations, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, non-governmental organisations, and landowner, industry and community groups. 

Environment Canterbury is currently coordinating a refresh of the 2008 strategy. The aim of this is to achieve better biodiversity outcomes for the region and ensure that we are well positioned to respond to - and feed into - upcoming national policy changes, including both the new national Biodiversity Strategy and the proposed National Policy Statement on Biodiversity.


Removing wilding conifersBiosecurity involves controlling invasive pests and diseases that have a negative impact on Canterbury's natural environment and can impact our region's economy. Climate change will impact the types and frequency of pest incursions and their likelihood of establishment. As such we consider climate change as a factor in our approach to biosecurity risk management.

Climate data has been factored into the Regional Pest Management Plan, which became operative in 2018, to better understand which parts of the region will become more, or less, susceptible to various pests. The plan aims to better prevent and manage new pest incursions, some of which may be more likely to thrive in our region with climate change.

Initiatives such as the Pest-Free Banks Peninsula memorandum of understanding, which Environment Canterbury is a signatory to, are part of a broader recognition of the links between climate change and biosecurity, as well as the need for collaborative effort.

Natural hazards

DroughtClimate change will have an impact on the natural hazard landscape in the region, including: increasing coastal erosion, seawater inundation, more volatile weather patterns, and increased frequency and severity of floods, fires, storms and droughts. Environment Canterbury is responsible for identifying, assessing and managing the increasing risks from these natural hazards. The Regional Policy Statement prevents development in areas of increasing risk.

Changes in the extent and frequency of extreme weather events has implications for river flood risk, flood protection systems and infrastructure. We support the region to adapt to the effects of climate change through building high quality flood protection schemes. For example, the Waimakariri Flood Protection Project, completed in September 2019, protects over $8 billion in assets. Where lakes and river mouths are managed for flood protection through mechanical opening to the sea, such as Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere, sea levels will affect the operational limits and may increase the frequency of this work. More information on our river management work can be found on our river and drain management page.

Environment Canterbury is part of a collaborative initiative, alongside all Canterbury local authorities and Civil Defence, to coordinate Canterbury's Regional Approach to Managing Natural Hazard Risk, which includes climate change.

Additionally, under the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement (NZCPS), Environment Canterbury manages coastal hazard risks, which includes taking climate change into account. The Regional Coastal Environment Plan aims to promote the sustainable management of the natural and physical resources of the Canterbury coastal environment. 


BusClimate change, particularly through sea level rise and more severe weather events, is likely to increase risk to Canterbury's transport network, which already faces challenging construction and maintenance issues, particularly along the Kaikōura Coast, through the alpine passes, and across some of the major rivers.

Environment Canterbury convenes and chairs the Regional Transport Committee, which prepares the Canterbury Regional Land Transport Plan to set the direction for transport in Canterbury. Resilience and sustainability are a key focus for the Committee and are reflected in the vision and investment priorities set out in the Plan. We also plan and manage the region's public transport services, and encourage active transport.

We provide public transport in the Canterbury region. The bus contract procurement process completed in February will reduce public transport CO2 emissions by 14% within their first year and innovative solutions like on-demand public transport in Timaru provide sustainable transport options. Read more about our work in public and land transport


Canterbury river mouthWe help to ensure that we have enough clean, fresh water today and in the future. Part of this is understanding and managing our surface and groundwater systems to ensure security of supply while maintaining community-agreed values, reflecting any forecast changes in the region's climate.

We will continue to enable the appropriate development and use of irrigation infrastructure in Canterbury to meet the community's needs as weather patterns evolve.

There are likely to be some development opportunities in adapting to climate change, for example, some areas becoming more suitable for horticulture.

The Waimakariri and Orari-Temuka Opihi-Pareora are two zones that face some of the greatest issues in future-proofing their irrigation infrastructure, including factoring in climate change. We work closely alongside the zone committees on their sub-regional planning processes.

Investigations and modelling are a part of zone-specific solutions to deliver the Canterbury Water Management Strategy targets. This includes modelling 'demand’ that takes into account likely changes in flows, evapotranspiration and water takes in response to climate change.

Leadership and Mana Whenua

Environment Canterbury Tuam St office in ChristchurchEnvironment Canterbury is one of many agencies urgently considering what climate change means for our region. The Mayoral Forum has oversight of a Canterbury Climate Change Working Group (CCCWG) which brings together all 10 territorial authorities, Environment Canterbury and Ngāi Tahu as a region-wide partnership dedicated to the region's response to climate change.

The resources and values of Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu will be impacted by climate change, and Environment Canterbury is committed to working in partnership to create a sustainable environment for current and future generations – together. Our shared vision is based on recognising the relationship between Ngāi Tahu, their ancestral land, and the fact it is inextricably affected by the work we do.  Read more about our Tuia relationship with Ngāi Tahu.

Environment Canterbury became the first Council in New Zealand to make a climate emergency declaration in May 2019 and signed the Local Government Leaders Climate Change Declaration calling for responsive leadership and a holistic approach to climate change in 2017.

We also support our Youth Rōpū to engage in climate change issues.