Q & A with Christina Hanna



We speak with Christina Hanna, a PhD student in our Governance programme who is concerned with sustainability and combatting climate change both in her research, and personal life.

Earth Hour is a global grassroots movement where millions of people around the world to turn off the lights and speak up about why nature matters. Why does sustainability matter to you?

Sustainability is an elusive concept, but it is a necessary, continual process of resolving conflicts between equity and social justice, environmental protection, and economic development. For me, a fundamental concern driving the sustainability imperative is that humans no longer live within the limits of Earth’s biocapacity, creating significant challenges for the future, which we must face up to and actively seek solutions for. Aldo Leopold once said: “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” Human production and consumption behaviours have greatly exploited natural resources, and we are beginning to recognise the significant impacts of transforming the social-ecological system we depend on.



When did sustainable living become a priority for you?

I was lucky to have grown up on a blueberry farm with a family very aware of and interested in environmental sustainability, with a love for New Zealand’s native species and great outdoors. Studying Environmental Planning at Waikato University cemented my interest in holistic sustainability, and I began to consider my own impact more consciously.

What are some of the things you do at home to reduce your impact?

Over the years I have become more aware of individual impacts, and the ability to make positive change through collective action. My husband and I do our best to live a ‘zero-waste’ lifestyle, where we:

  • Avoid waste to landfill by shopping with re-usable containers at bulk stores,
  • Grow our own, and purchase additional ‘naked’ fruit and veg from our local farmers,
  • Say no to single-use cups, cutlery, straws, plastic household items etc
  • Use all natural, plastic free household cleaners and beauty items (solid soap, facewash and shampoo bars, bamboo toothbrushes, biodegradable floss, etc)
  • Avoid food waste and compost any scraps

These actions take a little time and consciousness to become a habit, but they are a great start to reducing reliance on fossil fuels (plastic), reducing food miles, increasing food resilience, eating natural, wholefoods, and keeping the landfill less-full. In recognition of the need for ethical and sustainable action, we also ‘consciously consume’ by:

  • Avoiding fast fashion, purchasing clothing only when absolutely needed and following the ‘Buyerarchy of Needs’: Use what you have, borrow, swap, thrift, repair, make, and then buy. Any new clothing purchased is researched to ensure it has been ethically produced and made with organic materials, and preferably natural dyes.
  • Reducing emissions; I am lucky to work from home so I travel very little, and run/bike into town to do errands. When travelling by car I drive a hybrid, and offset air travel emissions, recognising that avoidance/reduction is the best option
  • Eating a predominantly plant-based diet
  • Practicing minimalism; living life based on experiences rather than worldly possessions


Sustainable produce and products from Christina’s Instagram account @christina.hanna


Your PhD research is related to climate change too, can you tell us about that?

My PhD is focused on risk reduction and climate change adaptation via managed retreat; the strategic relocation of people, assets and activities away from harm. Due to extreme events, the projected impacts of climate change, and trends in urbanisation, more people are exposed to natural hazard and climate risks in the 21st century. We can protect communities against some perils in the short to medium term, for example, by building seawalls and improving early warnings. However, longer-term resilience and sustainability goals are more likely to be achieved if we design with nature. Managed retreat is part of the design with nature approach that can reduce natural hazard risk and build community resilience and sustainability. It’s contentious at present due to significant institutional barriers, but it will be required in some areas.

Managed retreat is a difficult thing for a community to commit to – is it worth it?

Managed retreat can be applied to a wide range of natural hazard and climate change risks. Where institutional enablers are in place, it can be an advantageous adaptation technique to avoid exposure to life and infrastructure, increase resilience of communities, protect environmental and amenity values, and provide a cost effective option for hazard management, with avoidance of future maintenance and emergency management expenses. However, in terms of the impact on people and communities, detachment from place is a significant undertaking, requiring immense care, support, sensitivity, robust engagement, empowerment, and time. My research has found that institutional capacity building is required to deliver effective and equitable managed retreat in New Zealand.

Do you think that New Zealanders are starting to consider sea-level rise as a factor when they’re deciding where to buy a house?

Absolutely, but there is a big difference between considering SLR and actively seeking data, testing out coastal inundation tools and making long-term decisions.

Celebrating Earth Hour and turning off your lights from 8:30-9:30pm on the 30th of March is a good way to start taking action, how else can people reduce their impact?

Earth Hour is a good reminder to be more conscious of your daily actions, and to start thinking about the wider reach of your impact, both environmentally and socially. Empathy and respect towards all beings, and the Earth that sustains us will go a long way. We have strength in numbers, and in unity. Kia Kaha NZ.

Building community resilience



By Gail Adams-Hutcheson


After 15 years overseas involved in personal adventure travel, it was really easy to distil what I enjoyed about culture, people, and place. My journeys took me from Tibet to the Northern Territory, across India and South East Asia and many places besides. I returned to Aotearoa in 2003 where these ideas were crafted into a degree in socio-cultural geography.

Honing in on the human dimensions of climate change and disaster impacts, led me to examine post-disaster Christchurch as a PhD topic. Specifically, I paid attention to the relocation experiences of Cantabrians who moved up to the Waikato. Working closely with families who faced the double trauma of not only the earthquakes, but also leaving the city they loved, sparked an interest in resilience.

I am also passionate about furthering knowledge in a regional university and understanding climate and rural spaces. I currently live on the same road as Hobbiton, a small rural community near Lake Karapiro, and have begun investigating rural resilience to weather impacts at the local farm scale.

I was invited on to the National Science Challenge as a postdoctoral researcher to examine conceptual thinking behind governance and the politics of operationalising resilience. It was a big learning curve when examining key strategies such as the Rockefeller 100RC Resilience Framework in Wellington and Christchurch. However, my geographical background has proven useful when advocating for contextual analysis of place(s) and the possible drawbacks of utilising national frameworks as a one-size fits all approach to resilience. 

My daily work at the moment is talking with key actors working with infrastructure (utilities) resilience, organisational resilience, community development approaches to resilience, and resilience to climate change/natural hazards. These diverse conversations are proving to be rich when working toward providing data. Robust discussion centres on which types of resilience projects are being delivered in Aotearoa and the links to their governance structures which may enable or constrain resilience outcomes.


Managed retreat: Is the RMA up to it?



By Emily Grace

The Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) governs all of our land use and natural resource planning efforts. Aspirations of the community for development, growth, and preservation of natural values are expressed through policies and rules in regional and district planning documents. So, what if the community’s aspiration is to retreat from an area facing increasing risk of inundation from the sea or exacerbated coastal erosion, and purposefully avoid growth and development in this area? Is the RMA up to giving effect to this aspiration?


Research is currently underway to investigate the ability of the RMA to enable managed retreat. Specifically, this research is focused on how the ‘rights’ of existing and established uses can be managed under the RMA to reduce risk. The research team is made up of Emily Grace, a natural hazards planning researcher at GNS Science, Ben France-Hudson, a law lecturer from the University of Otago, and Margaret Kilvington, and independent social researcher based in Lyttleton. The strength of the research is in this combination of disciplines: planning, legal, and social.


Erosion at Clifton Campground in Hawke’s Bay, an area considering coastal management options. Photo © Julian Thomson/GNS Science


Findings to date suggest that, in certain circumstances, the RMA is able to proactively manage existing uses to reduce risk, especially when the community is supportive of the approach taken. However, investigations are currently focusing on an aspect of the RMA and property law that may limit Council options to remove an existing use right and facilitate managed retreat where this does not accord with the community’s wishes.


Investigations into the responsibilities the RMA places on regional and district levels of government are also underway. Generally, the role of regional councils is to manage the natural environment (e.g. water quality and allocation, biodiversity, air quality etc.), while district and city councils are primarily responsible for land use planning (growth and development). However, as an anomaly, the RMA gives regional councils the ability to use rules to manage existing and established land uses in hazard areas, rather than city and district councils. Interviews with city/district and regional council staff are highlighting the barrier this anomaly, and the uncertainty surrounding it, poses. Interviews with unitary authorities suggest that the combined function of these councils (who have both regional and city/district functions) is not enough to overcome the barrier.


News article detailing potential managed retreat of Franz Josef away from a number of hazards

Implementation under the RMA is also being considered. Options for rules that proactively manage existing and established uses to reduce risk are being investigated, from requiring raised floor levels when houses are rebuilt following significant flooding events, through to prohibiting residential activities altogether. How consent terms and conditions of consent can be used are also being looked at, as well as what is necessary in the RMA policy hierarchy to achieve an outcome of reduced risk.


The research project is due to conclude in June 2019, with practical guidance for councils on how existing and established uses can currently be managed under the RMA, and suggestions for ways to improve the ability of the system to provide for this function.


Matata debris flow, an area where the RMA is being used to manage risk. Photo © The Whakatane Beacon 

Operationalising resilience: A heuristic framework for analysis



By Professor Iain White, Professor Bruce Glavovic, Dr Judy Lawrence and Dr Gail Adams-Hutcheson

The question of how to build the resilience of places and organisations is attracting great interest. However, the term resilience is defined in diverse and contested ways. This raises important questions around how resilience is understood, what it is designed to achieve, and how this may translate into practice. The Resilience to Nature’s Challenges Operationalising Resilience project is examining what kinds of resilience are being delivered in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The concept of resilience encompasses three paths of action – to cope, adapt, or transform. Each of these may be necessary depending on the severity of stresses and shocks and the need for stability or change. Significantly, research shows that each of these objectives puts differing demands on our governance systems, from relatively simple policy changes to more complex and contested public processes that incorporate divergent values and a wide range of possible futures. Because of this, some types of resilience are not just easier to deliver than others, but governance processes and practices may also exert hidden pressures that favour stability outcomes over more challenging transformative measures.

The Operationalising Resilience project aims to use a heuristic framework  to address the critical issues of resilience delivery and gauge the effect of governance processes on enabling or inhibiting differing resilience outcomes. Resilience governance is the range of governance interactions that enable society to navigate stresses and shocks in the face of complexity and contestation. It is an ongoing process of public decision-making and action to chart resilience development. The heuristic will help facilitate a distinctive ‘fit-for-purpose’ approach to resilience outcomes, helping us match and understand governance interactions to the types of problem faced, given the interplay of facts and values and how they shape with resilience outcomes.


Resilience Governance Heuristic

The Resilience Governance heuristic shows that fit-for-purpose resilience governance varies according to the type of problem faced. It can be described as:

  1. Absorption: Competitive interactions can resolve simple and uncontested problems; and build absorptive capacity when stresses and shocks are mild and maintaining stability is the focus, e.g., private car insurance.
  2. State-led adaptation: Authoritarian interactions can address uncontested but technically complex problems; and build state-led absorptive capacity when stresses and shocks are moderate to severe, and maintaining stability or incremental change is required. An example is state-led relocation of people facing imminent danger due to a significant natural hazard.
  3. Network-based adaptation: Collaborative interactions can resolve relatively simple but politically contested problems; and build network-based adaptive capacity when stresses and shocks are mild to moderate, and flexibility and change are necessary. Collaborative planning processes to improve water resource management is a salient example.
  4. Transformation: Emancipatory interactions can address deeply complex and contested problems; and build transformative capacity when stresses and shocks are severe and systems require or undergo systemic change. Conventional modes of governance, and associated problem-solving approaches, are ill-equipped to deal with wicked problems. Governance innovations are therefore necessary, e.g., to transition from unsustainable fossil fuel dependency to climate resilient development pathways.


The heuristic can be used to examine what kind of governance interaction and associated decision-making responses might be best suited to address the resilience problem faced. In so doing, the links between resilience strategy, project goals and issues of concern can be critically reflected upon and addressed in a ‘fit for purpose’ manner.

The first phase of the Operationalising Resilience project looked at capturing a range of resilience policies, plans and projects that have been initiated across Aotearoa by focusing on strategies relating to Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities in Wellington and Christchurch. This phase soon uncovered some pressing problems. First, many projects lacked a clear definition of what resilience is or might look like, consistent with the findings of the C2C Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing Network. Second, as existing institutions (Councils, government agencies, housing developers, community organisations) are designing the projects, there was a noticeable focus on creating data/indicators for monitoring risk. This, however, had the effect of steering projects down existing institutional structures/pathways and so we can see a focus on resilience as absorption over other forms of resilience. Third, the balance of the portfolio of responses tended towards economic objectives, such as with regard to business continuity or self-sufficiency to ‘cope’.


Source: https://www.rockefellerfoundation.org/our-work/initiatives/100-resilient-cities/

Some of the things we learned by tabling Wellington and Christchurch projects were:

  • This work helps us look across the portfolio of resilience projects and understand who is privileged in policy more than others.
  • Christchurch and Wellington resilience projects are a mix of initiatives that evolve over time, including projects centred on risk acceptance and management, adaptation, resilience building and recovery.


The second phase of the Operationalising Resilience project responds to and builds upon the outcomes of the scoping phase.  Interviews will be conducted with governance actors from government, tangata whenua, civil society, the private sector, science, local and indigenous knowledge holders and media – including project proponents, stakeholders and other relevant governance actors and key informants. This will help us better understand how problems are framed, by whom, and the influences of governance networks on the types of resilience we are delivering, and what aspects of resilience governance need more attention. By analysing the impact of the ways we make decisions and the dimension of resilience we are focusing on, we can better match the most appropriate response to the type of problem being addressed.

Corridor Forums: Working together for a more resilient transport network



By Dr Vivienne Ivory

How can we make decisions affecting the long-term resilience of our transport network when key players are siloed into regions, modes, and organisations and the future is uncertain? Multi-modal, multi-regional ‘Corridor Forums’ are being piloted as a governance tool to increase New Zealand’s capacity to adapt and potentially transform our transport infrastructure to be more resilient to the many shocks and stresses ahead of us.
Photo © GNS Science

Moving people and goods around New Zealand requires infrastructure that crosses regional boundaries, uses multiple modes (sea and air transport, as well as land), and includes public and private organisations. The decisions we make in this area will affect our communities long into the future. Despite this, our systems analysis of the transport infrastructure networks following November 2016 Kaikōura earthquakes identified silos of information and decision-making that may ultimately hinder resilience efforts. Adding to this, transport decisions tend to favour the repair and protection of existing infrastructure rather than adapting for future shocks and stresses.

Given the network nature of transport infrastructure, it is not surprising that making long-term decisions about change is challenging. Natural hazard events amplify this challenge, so it is important that we develop the capacity to make decisions before a crisis, rather than be forced to make them during one. Knowing there is uncertainty about future technology and social and economic changes,  transport stakeholders have identified the value in developing the networks and ‘practising’ making difficult decisions. And doing so before shocks occur. The Manawatu – Whanganui – Taranaki Corridor Forum is a pilot to trial a multi-modal, multi-regional forum as a governance tool. It will bring together players from across a transport system that includes public and private organisations, and local and national interests. The pilot is a collaboration between the Governance, Infrastructure and Economics Toolboxes of the Resilience Challenge.

Corridor Forums are being used in the European Union to bring together interests and expertise from diverse stakeholders across countries seeking to develop and improve the performance of the corridor (transport network in a given area) over the long-term. Benefits include removing information silos, establishing effective relationships that ‘bridge’ organisations before crises, and capacity building to think strategically about future challenges.

The Manawatu – Whanganui – Taranaki Corridor Forum pilot is a series of four facilitated structured workshops based in Whanganui. It is being attended by decision-makers from across regional and national-level bodies, bringing transport operators alongside users (e.g., freight, tourism, community, civil defence) and investors (e.g., policy makers, regional authorities). The corridor is of national significance, has road, rail, air and shipping ports, and is exposed to multiple natural hazards. Challenges being addressed include the significant changes transport is undergoing with both social and technological disruptions changing how people and goods move around, and what that might mean for how we plan for natural hazards (known and emerging).


Stakeholders, operators and users alike participating in a Manawatu – Whanganui – Taranaki Corridor Forum workshop

Two aspects of this pilot study are particularly novel. The first is in bringing together people and organizations from across the transport system, an initiative often acknowledged, but less frequently practiced in resilience governance. Not only do the workshops bring together transport investors and operators, they also include the users such as tourism and freight. These users are not always involved in decision-making conversations, yet can provide invaluable insights into an area’s strengths and vulnerabilities and values. Including such a range of local participants will result in a wealth of local and national knowledge and technical expertise present at each workshop, as well as varied perspectives on future management prioritisation.

The second novel aspect if this research is in its use of foresight techniques. The Forum uses hypothetical crisis examples (rather than existing known threats) developed using foresight techniques and state of the art hazard scenario processes so participants can experience working with uncertainty and different values and priorities. We are also using foresight thinking techniques to ‘stretch’ people’s imagination about what our transport and wider society could be like in the future (such as with demographic and technological change), and how that interacts with the known sources of shocks (such as floods) as well as the less certain stresses from forces such as climate change.


Using LEGO to map natural hazards and transport networks in a Manawatu – Whanganui – Taranaki Corridor Forum workshop

The combination of these two innovative approaches will provide participants with the opportunity to share local and technical knowledge and perspectives about the corridor vulnerabilities and strengths, as well as what counts as a ‘severe’ shock, how ‘good’ decisions get made, and ultimately what matters the most. The Forum is very much about developing capacity to have challenging conversations about the uncertainties we face and our collective understanding of risk and resilience.

Following the pilot completion in early 2019, lessons will be gathered for the value of corridor forums for New Zealand’s transport infrastructure, including the opportunities and governance arrangements for ongoing forums.

The Manawatu – Whanganui – Taranaki Corridor Forum pilot provides transport stakeholders with the opportunity to

  • establish system-wide relationships prior to a major shock or stress event
  • encourage more adaptive and transformative thinking about the future
  • practice making decisions where there is uncertainty, where there is conflict
  • work towards future focused solutions to challenging problems and the implementation pathways to achieve them

Multi-modal, multi-regional Corridor Forums can complement existing collaborative initiatives within regions and/or modes, and hazard-based scenario exercises, by developing a broader capacity and appetite to work together across the transport system. In New Zealand, we think they can allow us to collectively consider natural hazards in our future thinking, and thus make informed decisions about how we plan for and manage our transport networks going forward.

Resilience Governance in practice



By Dr Judy Lawrence, Dr Paul Schneider and Prof Bruce Glavovic

A series of severe coastal storms along the Coromandel Peninsula has brought coastal hazard risk to the fore, especially in the face of rising sea levels. A coastal management strategy aimed at increasing coastal resilience was recently approved by the Thames Coromandel District Council. However, questions remain about how to coordinate resilience building efforts between different governing authorities on the peninsula, and how to mobilise coastal communities so that proactive and sustained risk reduction measures can be put in place. Such questions face coastal communities around the country.
Coastal impact on the Coromandel coast during the January 5 storm

To answer these questions, the Resilience to Nature’s Challenges Resilience Governance and Living at the Edge research programmes are being conducted in tandem. The former is advancing our understanding about resilience governance as a concept and how to operationalise it. The latter focuses on how to reduce risk, adapt and build resilience in the dynamic coastal environment, based on the development of the Clifton to Tangoio Coastal Hazards Strategy in Hawke’s Bay. Both programmes are complemented by postdoctoral research, funded by the Earthquake Commission (EQC), which examines ways to reduce risk and build resilience on the Coromandel Peninsula. Understanding the role that governance plays in enabling resilience outcomes over timeframes of ‘at least 100 years’ is the key link between these research programmes.


The severity of the impact from the January 5 storm on the Thames Coast


The Living at the Edge programme has applied decision tools for the Hawke’s Bay coast that enables robust decisions to be made. Dynamic Adaptive Policy Pathways planning (DAPP) has been used to identify short-term actions and long-term options. Plus, Real Options Analysis has been used to conduct sensitivity testing and determine costing of the pathways. The strategy formulation process has had a unique collaborative governance arrangement in which a Joint Councils’ Committee comprising Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, Napier City and Hastings District Council is working closely with community assessment panels. This governance arrangement has enabled a strategy to be developed that has wide support, and which is now at the implementation stage.


Comparative analysis is underway to examine key findings emerging from these three research programmes to better understand coastal resilience building approaches underway on the Coromandel Peninsula and Hawke’s Bay. This research will shed light on what is happening ‘on the ground’, and how barriers and enablers to risk reduction and resilience building unfold. Key factors identified include the local political leadership on climate-related perils, community norms and values, the ‘appetite’ for addressing coastal concerns, and institutional barriers and enablers for formulating and implement long-term risk reduction strategies. Comparative local experience provides practical insights about how to tailor decision-making on the coast in ways that can overcome barriers and leverage opportunities to build resilience.


EDGE drop-in session as part of collective decision-making

Student profile: Christina Hanna



Managed retreat in Aotearoa New Zealand




A bit about me 


I’m from the Waikato, where I undertook a Bachelor of Environmental Planning and worked as a planning consultant before pursuing my PhD in this field.

Outside of studying, you can find me teaching emerging planners at Waikato University, researching sustainability and zero-waste living, and exploring New Zealand’s great outdoors.


My project


My research is focused on natural hazard risk reduction via managed retreat; the strategic relocation of people, assets and activities away from harm. I have explored how managed retreat is applied internationally, and in the New Zealand context (see summary report here). The principal focus of my research is to examine and develop managed retreat governance. Primary data collection has involved in-depth research of key case studies attempting managed retreat, including textual analysis, site visits, and semi-structured interviews of key public and private stakeholders. I have also conducted a survey to understand public perceptions towards managed retreat, and I am currently exploring new opportunities for its application.

Case study research has highlighted a range of procedural constraints in applying managed retreat under the planning system, summarised in this report. Fundamentally, there is an undeniable need for capacity building to better support local government in this space. In terms of the impact on people and communities, my research reinforces that detachment from place is a significant undertaking, requiring immense care, sensitivity, robust engagement, empowerment, and time. But I also recognise the perils of loss of life, loss of amenity and natural character, and increasing maintenance and emergency management costs over the long-term. Managed retreat challenges the presentism bias and requires people and communities to think beyond their time, remedying the legacy decisions of the past and forging a more resilient future.



The complex and contentious nature of managed retreat has proven to be an exciting and challenging research project. I am thankful to participants who have given up their time to share their knowledge and experiences. Spending time with practitioners and members of the public has been essential to understanding the intricacies and implications of managed retreat, reinforcing the need to better understand it. 


Next steps


I am currently writing up my thesis, which is due for completion in mid-2019.