Corazon Miller is a NZ Herald reporter

Rising seas spur action

Councils plan to put more effort into dealing with climate change.
Councils have pledged to make climate change a key planning priority as concerns grow over the thousands of coastal homes at risk from rising sea levels. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Councils have pledged to make climate change a key planning priority as concerns grow over the thousands of coastal homes at risk from rising sea levels. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Councils have pledged to make climate change a key planning priority as concerns grow over the thousands of coastal homes at risk from rising sea levels.

The question of how to adapt and prepare for this is a key issue at an Auckland conference on Friday, timed to coincide with the country's highest tides for the year.

Titled Managing the Impact of Sea Level Rise in New Zealand, Implementing Adaptation Strategies, the conference will bring private and public sectors together work out how to deal with the risk.

About 9000 homes across the country are less than 50cm above the current spring high tide levels, and industry experts fear many owners will end up thousands of dollars out of pocket if nothing is done.

Sea levels are expected to rise 30cm between now and 2065, and a report published in the journal Nature last week predicted levels could rise 2m by 2100.

Experts say coastal homes could face serious flood risks especially if combined with stormy weather and tidal surges.

Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule said coastal inundation, foundational strength of land, liquefaction and effects on fresh water were issues local bodies would need to address when looking at the impact sea level rises would have on their communities.

"We have fundamentally agreed that it's now a significant strategic priority for local government," he said.

"The sooner we can look at long-term strategies the better."

Yule said it was about assessing the risk and resilience of each area and making plans to address the risks.

He said councils had no obligation to help those who chose to stay in at-risk areas.

"Councils are funded by the people. You are effectively having a conversation about whether the people not exposed to risk should subsidise the moving of people who are."

He said councils could provide education on the risks, but it was up to individuals whether they decided to take the risk or not.

Insurance Council of New Zealand chief executive Tim Grafton, who is also presenting at the conference, said climate change was an inevitable event property owners needed to prepare for.

Grafton said as well as those on the coast, a number of properties on land above infrastructure designed before the risks of climate change were known could also be vulnerable.

He said those owners risked facing higher insurance premiums and excesses of up to $10,000 if nothing was done to minimise the risk.

"You are going to have to start thinking about the long-term future of that property, to see if council is taking any steps to adapt and reduce the risk of these properties from flooding," he said.

"If there is still plenty of time to address these issues the more that can be done."

Key facts

• Sea level is expected to rise 30cm between now and 2065.

• About 9000 homes across the country lie less than 50cm above current spring high-tide levels.

• Nine cities and towns in New Zealand have more than 1000 homes lying less than 150cm above spring high tide levels.

• King tides will become higher - the 100-year flood will become an annual event.

For more information about the conference go to www.antarcticreport.com

- Herald on Sunday

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