Step 1: Getting started

This step helps you understand risk, climate and adaptation, as well as reasons to adapt.

Step 1 explains what risk, climate and adaptation are, as well as reasons to adapt.

Start by downloading the Taskpad that accompanies this Toolkit using the button below and save or print it.

This will enable you to record the information you gather, mark completed tasks on the checklists and retain a record of your action plan. We refer you back to this Taskpad and checklists throughout the Toolbox but you only need to download it once.


Example taskpad (agriculture)

Example taskpad (rural community)

Example taskpad (school)

1.1. Establishing your goals

Clarify your aims, objectives and desired outcomes of using the Toolbox, especially if working through the Toolbox in a group. You might find it useful to work through each step in separate sessions.

1.2. What is risk? 

Risk is the likelihood of a disaster happening, combined with the impacts of that event. A disaster event could be rare but the impact high, for instance a tsunami that occurs once in 10,000 years on average. Managing risk involves identifying potential problems (threats) and opportunities to mitigate damage. Risk management involves identifying risks (including opportunities), working out which risks you should manage and creating a plan. The Toolbox goes into more detail about risk in Step 3.

1.3. What is climate? 

Climate is not the same as weather. Climate describes average conditions over long periods, generally 30 years or more. For instance, from 1981 to 2010, mean annual temperatures ranged from about 14°C to 16.5°C. In contrast, weather describes the conditions in the short term, for instance, today and tomorrow's forecast. Some people say that “climate is what you expect, while weather is what you get”.

1.4. What is adaptation? 

Adaptation is about how you manage your activities in response to climate change risks. It is not about preventing climate change but means making sure you are resilient to the impacts that might come. Adaptation can minimise costs and maximise opportunities from a changing climate.

How much change in climate you can tolerate is known as the coping range. People, the economy and the environment can generally tolerate some amount of climate variability. However, there are often limits when coping becomes difficult, for instance the number of days over 30°C or rainfall in excess of 100mm in 24 hours. Adapting to climate change is about increasing your coping range.

A (critical) threshold is a level or point where the impacts of climate and/or weather change from the norm or expected range. Critical thresholds can be defined naturally, e.g. the river levels where banks are overtopped or the temperature that animals become heat stressed. There may be more than one threshold, and they may relate to opportunities as well as risks.

1.5. Adaptation activities 

See the table below for a range of possible climate change adaptation activities.

Adaptation activity


Education, awareness-raising, and training

Help ensure adaptation actions are successful across a wide community.

Safety factors, buffering measures

Help to increase your critical threshold by giving you more room to manoeuvre.

Emergency planning

Planning for low probability, high consequence disaster events such as floods, droughts and storms.


Should an adverse event occur then losses can be covered by an insurance policy.


Spreading risk to new or diverse areas can lessen potential problems in the future.

Changing the way resources are used

Such as management practices, other technical measures or the timing and way resources are used.


To better understand climate risks, options for adaptation and performance of adaptation actions.

Risk-based assessment

Looking at the potential issues and benefits when making decisions. 


Monitoring the impacts of climate change and weather events, as well as the actions put in place to adapt. This helps you to understand what is changing, as well as whether your adaptation actions are working.

Defend and manage

Accepting change will occur and be coped with but not significantly altering plans or activities towards prevention.

Delay and buy-time

A delay strategy can help to deliver a better decision, if the delay time is used to improve your knowledge – for instance by combining it with research or monitoring.

Retreat and abandon

This could be considered the worst-case scenario and may occur if actions can’t avoid climate change significantly impacting you.

1.6. Why adapt? 

  • Climate change and its impacts cannot be avoided. 
  • Decision-making based on the historical climate may no longer be suitable for long-term projects and plans. Extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and average conditions are changing. 
  • Identifying risks and actions now can reduce future costs
  • Immediate benefits are possible if acting now helps to cope better with extreme weather.
  • Take advantage of new opportunities from changing consumer preferences or markets.
  • Increasingly, insurers and investors are taking climate change into account in decision-making, so you may have to address the issue for legal and financial reasons.
  • Due diligence requires organisations to avoid damage that is reasonably foreseeable. Evidence suggests that climate change is already happening.

For further reading on the benefits of adapting to climate change, see Resources.

1.7. What to expect?

Identify local information and/or reports on your current and expected future climate and environment, as well as previous natural hazards in your location.

If you need help, the Resources page of this Toolbox contains information and links detailing the expected future climate for different regions of New Zealand. Your local or regional council should also have information about current and future climate and impacts for your area.

You may want to have a look at some of this information now, and you’ll also look at this in more detail in Step 2.

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