Local Government New Zealand calls for more action to prepare councils and communities for impacts of sea level rise

Climate change and sea level rise are increasingly important factors in policy making for local government, particularly for coastal areas, says Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) President Lawrence Yule.

Mr Yule said that there is currently a strong focus on the issue, and political and business leaders from New Zealand and Australia are due to gather in Auckland next week for the Australia-New Zealand Climate Change and Business Conference.

This week an international team, led by Victoria University researcher Nick Golledge published a report which states that a warming of 2°C or more will lead to the disintegration of the Antartica ice sheets. This in turn will contribute to increase in sea level rise and impacts from storm surge. Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright is also expected to release her second report on sea level rise in the coming months, looking specifically at the policy implications of the changes and areas of coastal New Zealand that are likely to be affected.

“The conference and Dr Wright’s report will direct the focus onto these issues, and that focus needs to be ongoing and sustained,” said Mr Yule. “New Zealand cannot be caught napping. Sea level rise is a very real threat to the development and cost of coastal subdivision buildings, infrastructure and services such as stormwater and sewage. Councils and communities need to take this seriously and be prepared.”

“Potential impacts include rising water tables affecting property foundations, damage to infrastructure and services from storm surge and flooding, and erosion. LGNZ has called for a shared national approach to tackle issues of climate change and sea level rise that can be implemented at a national, regional and local level.”

“We are also pressing for the development of a national framework, in partnership with central government, to address the need to apply effort across the continuum from hazard mitigation to adaptation. We need to avoid increasing our risk and decide what actions can be taken to address current areas that are exposed.”

“Councils need to be aware of all the implications, including the need to disclose information – there could be potential liabilities if they do not.”

The New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement provides clear direction on sea level rise. Possible changes to the Resource Management Act are also expected to include natural hazards being elevated to Part 6 of the Act, covering matters of national importance.

“That will be a very positive development which will enable the right decisions to be made in the Environment Court,” said Mr Yule.

“It will mean that communities which are at risk from sea level rise can progress with planning to respond to this threat without imposing obligations on communities where it is less of a problem.”

“Hastings District, Napier City and Hawke’s Bay Regional councils are examples of local authorities which are taking a proactive approach on this. They are working together towards a coastal hazard strategy and major study of the impact sea level rise will have from Cape Kidnappers to Tangoio, north of Napier.”