Local Government New Zealand says up to $14 billion of local government infrastructure is at risk from rising sea levels and climate change

Coastal erosion in Haumoana in the Hawke's Bay in 2007. Photo: Alan Blacklock.

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) President Dave Cull says councils around the country need to act now to address the threat of rising sea levels.

It follows the release today of a LGNZ report, Vulnerable: The quantum of local government infrastructure exposed to sea level rise.

It looks at the cost to councils from rising sea levels and says up to $14 billion of local government infrastructure is at risk. The report calls on central government to urgently develop policies to help minimise the impact of climate change on New Zealand communities.

But earlier this week the West Coast Regional Council’s submission on the government’s Zero Carbon Act (ZCB) hit the headlines after it questioned climate change.

“While the framework of the Zero Carbon Bill appears to be well-intentioned the science behind the bill and anthropogenic climate change needs to be presented and proven beyond reasonable doubt.

“If the ZCB is adopted the key will be how it is implemented. The ZCB will put obligations on individuals, businesses and organisations to change their behaviour and reduce emissions nationally, however, the impacts will be felt at the regional level, particularly on the West Coast. The proposed areas where emissions can be reduced will potentially have significant negative economic and social repercussions for this region. If the ZCB is adopted it must focus more on regional effects. Much more work would be needed to ensure that negative outcomes of implementing the ZCB on West Coast people and communities are avoided or minimised.

But Cull says now’s the time to act and not procrastinate.

“Many councils are already experiencing the impact of sea level rise, most notably in Bay of Plenty, the West Coast, South Dunedin and Hawke’s Bay, but we haven’t had an accurate nationwide understanding of the community-owned infrastructure that is at risk, until now,” he says.

“Using sea level rise scenarios that are based on the best local and international scientific advice, our research paints a really stark picture for local communities.  That’s not even factoring in the total value of assets at risk from sea level rise, which skyrockets when you start factoring things that sit on top of this infrastructure, like highways, homes, businesses, office buildings, hospitals, factories and schools.”

“That’s why we need to urgently ramp up work on New Zealand’s adaptation framework. As a small country our efforts in the mitigation space – while necessary – are not going to meaningfully move the dial on global carbon emissions. But changes in the climate will definitely impact us, principally in the form of rising sea levels as two-third of all New Zealanders live within five kilometres of the sea.”

The LGNZ report calls for a national conversation on the level of local government services currently provided and what can be maintained in the short, medium and long term as sea levels rise. It also recommends the establishment of a National Climate Change Adaptation Fund to deal with the costs of rising sea levels and a Local Government Risk Agency to help councils understand and factor in the risk of climate change into their planning and decision-making. The report also recommends creating a National Master Plan so it can work with the owners of affected infrastructure to plan for rising sea levels.

The insurer's perspective

The Insurance Council of New Zealand (ICNZ) has welcomed the release of the LGNZ report.

But ICNZ Chief Executive Tim Grafton says while the report identifies billions of dollars’ worth of local government assets that are at risk from rising sea-levels, the real cost to the country as a whole will be much larger.

He says the full cost of exposure to central government and private sector property will be in the tens of billions of dollars.

"LGNZ has done everyone a service by putting the issue of adaptation to climate change fairly and squarely on the agenda for discussion by all," he says. "This is not just an issue for local government; central government has a key role to play too and ultimately carries the economic, social and political risk if adapting to sea-level rise is not well managed. Every dollar invested to reduce and adapt to risk now will save many more dollars in future post-disaster losses and help avoid social dislocation."

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

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58 Comments

Cull's Council are currently reclaiming a cycle-way, doomed in this scenario. So many left hands not talking to the right hands. Essentially, resilience needs to be weighted more than the current 'cost/beneft analysis' way we decide on things.

Which tells us that the 'free market' was incapable of long-term forward thought.

Part of the cranial change required is that we need to stop referring to physical infrastructure as 'billions of dollars'. It's actually a collection of expended energy, finite resources and displaced options. We need to start seeing it that way.

This is a long but really interesting article about climate change I came across yesterday, looking at the geological history of climate change and also possible geoengineering solutions.

https://palladiummag.com/2019/01/28/ancient-upheavals-show-how-to-geoeng...

As for councils and government, they shouldn't be building or repairing anything without allowing for several metres of sea level rise.

Interesting. puts our current troules in real context.

Very interesting, thanks for the link!

Yes, we should cost in units of ecosystem services. Imagine for example if there were no recycling services offered and every bit of volume you tried to throw away cost you in removal of other ecosystem services based on the type of rubbish (i.e., how biodegradable or not) it was. Food manufacturers would be forced out of plastic altogether.

At what cost to ghg emissions would the alternatives to plastic be Kate? Has anyone actually researched this on a large scale. It's a bit like saying imported GMO feed for stock will reduce stock ghg, but what isn't said is it will increase overall ghg.

I'm not particularly concerned about GHG emissions. We have much more pressing immediate issues, such as mountains of waste which doesn't degrade, in combination with the appalling state of our freshwater and soil degradation. Far more important to my mind and squarely in the lap of local authorities to step up and solve.

Their 'interest/emphasis' on climate change is a bit of a strawman to my mind.

Well put Kate. . Lets not call it Climate change. Call it human pollution (the cost to the planet for having human inhabitants) most of whom just want to get on with the life they have on earth. Not dictated to by well intentioned self proclaimed politicians

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"anthropogenic climate change needs to be presented and proven beyond reasonable doubt"

No one denies climate change as it has always been shown from million years of geological evidences WITHOUT any human's interference.

However, 'anthropogenic climate change' is a very very dubious claim. Just thinking about reducing man-made CO2 and CH4 emission will change the global climate system is beyond imagination and a bloody laughing stock.

So all the scientists are wrong and your gut feeling is right?

You find similar beliefs in groups like flat-earthers, anti-vaxers, anti-1080, alternative health advocates etc. You know, it's all a big global scientific conspiracy to [insert conspiracy here]...

and there seems to be a strong correlation between climate change and views on toxic masculinity, white privilege, immigration and other"progressive" left nonsense.

Ah, so your view as per above is climate change is a [left wing] conspiracy. How very informative. Darn all those scientists trying to push 'left wing science' on us!

Have you ever wondering if that correlation alternatively suggests conservative voters are stupid and anti-science?

I am bombarded with climate change propaganda, what I actually see however is ever-increasing erosion due to deforestation, dwindling fish stocks due to over-fishing (crayfish are functionally extinct in the Coromandel) and being unable to drink out of most of our waterways.

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Or more likely that catastrophic AGW belief is an afflication of the young, historically ignorant, superficially educated, credulous and tribal followers of fashion who have not yet learned to think for themselves and are stuck in unsophisticated adolescent manichean world views. IE the political left. To date evidence for global warming is not at all 'alarming'. The evidence for catastrophic global warming is at best equivocal, and vast numbers of highly experienced scientists and technical types - myself included - who have spent 100's to 1000's of hours reading up on it over the last 20 years do not find any compelling case for political efforts to reduce or mitigate the change. But we can see a lot of tortured evidence and political spin trying to sell the scare with all the hallmarks of just another millenialist scare (like so many in recent history), greatly enriching its academic, NGO, civil servant and activist promotors at the expense of the public. Not a conspiracy, just a whole lot of people latching on to a weakly evidenced meal-ticket that they can rationalise as being virtuous.

Post of 2019 - will take some beating.

..so you are a climate scientist Foyle? If so, you must be that one that doesn't believe eh!

So now it's a conspiracy for [money].... right...

No conspiracy. Just noble cause corruption and a $1.5 trillion industry. That is a lot of mortgages and school fees. Pity the money wasn't spent on TB or something more worthwhile. "Interest in climate change is becoming an increasingly powerful economic driver, so much so that some see it as an industry in itself whose growth is driven in large part by policymaking.

The $1.5 trillion global “climate change industry” grew at between 17 and 24 percent annually from 2005-2008, slowing to between 4 and 6 percent following the recession with the exception of 2011’s inexplicable 15 percent growth, according to Climate Change Business Journal."

The true spirit of science is to doubt everything! My Heavy Gman.

I doubt gravity, please jump out of 20 story building window and confirm my doubt.

Undoubtedly humans are assisting with changes in the climate and polluting our planet, so we do need to do our bit to ensure survival of future generations for as long as possible, however the planet is coming out of an ice age and we are powerless in attempting to stop it.

Interestingly our next ice age in due in approx 50000 years time and if our greenhouse gases remain at current levels we may not get it. Im not sure if thats a good thing or a bad thing

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_age

xingmowang,

Ignorance of a subject is ok. Willful ignorance is not ok. Your comments make it clear that your denial of human influence on the climate is based not on any knowledge but on your pre-determined world view.
As the Keeling Curve shows,the CO2 level is above 400ppm and we have the evidence to show that when the earth has has this level previously,global warming follows. Furthermore,we have the Stefan-Boltzman and Wein radiation laws to understand how this works Here's a very rough explanation. When heat is reradiated from the earth-it has an albedo of 30%- it is at a longer wavelength than when it reaches earth from the sun. It then reacts with the GHGs in the atmosphere and a proportion of that heat then comes back and warms the earth. Thus,the greater the level of CO2 in the atmosphere,the more heat remains in the atmosphere.

Sounds frightful. Reality. The contribution that mankind makes to the atmosphere can be visualised by considering a pile of one million grains of rice, representing one million molecules of air. Of that pile, 18 grains of rice would represent molecules of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, 15 grains representing carbon dioxide, 2 grains representing methane and 1 grain representing nitrous oxide. Essentially the UN is asking everyone to believe that 18 ordinary molecules of air our of a milliion could cause catastrophic climate collapse - and that halving 18 molecules down to 9, could significantly alter climate patterns. To put NZ's emissions into perspective using the grain of rice analogy, our 0.17 percent contribution to global man-made greenhouse gases is equivalent to a 0.03 portion of a single grain of rice and is too small to see. Anticipated cost to NZ going down this path $200 billion. Not sure whether that includes $14 billion over 10 years to the Paris Climate agreement. Why on earth is a country of 5 million people even taking part in this nonsense?

DiDi,

Nonsense. It’s not the UN but thousands of climate scientists who are asking us to believe in AGW. You are of course correct in saying that GHGs represent a minuscule fraction of the atmosphere,but you clearly have no Concept of their importance. Leaving AGW aside,if these gases were not there,the Eartth’s temperature would be around minus 18C and we would not exist. If you don’t believe me,look it up.
Once you understand that and if you are sufficiently open-minded,then you can begin to understand how we are influencing the climate. Go and do a free online course.

Yet the biggest GHG in the atmosphere is water, and nobody is freaking out about the fact that water is in the air. It's a very complex system and often the amount of GHG currently in the air is more than enough to absorb 100% of infrared radiation. You can't just take a couple of minor factors measured in ppm and claim they are the only thing that can be influencing climate change.
People are slowly realising, just like peak oil, over population, limits to growth etc. climate change is incredibly nuanced and nobody really understands what is going to happen, or what is causing it.

If more people had real world, whole system experience, they would understand how childishly ridiculous it is to point at one factor as the cause, and then think changing that factor will solve the challenge.

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NZ is doing it's part to tackle climate change by importing plastic junk, palm oil products and tens of thousands of people. Any how many litres of fuel are burnt by people commuting out to the affordable suburbs, driving past fields and fields of banked land. When kiwis birth rates drop due to their habitat being expensive what do the govt do? Immigration of course; Replace their would-be children with living breathing GDP growth from abroad at any cost.

Shouldnt the headline be more along the lines of
"Local government needs $14b to subsidise the coastal lifestyles of the few and protect their massive capital gains"

RC
You have a very poor and extremely narrow comprehension of implications of climate change.
Climate change for example has considerable significance for the agriculture sector on which our economy and regional infrastructure is based on.
Make today a day for enlightening yourself; try doing a Google on "implications of climate change nz".

Try the following link to get an idea of the range of impacts: http://www.mfe.govt.nz/climate-change/likely-impacts-of-climate-change/o...

Narrow comprehension in this case describes the belief that you can build a house on fore dunes and it is destined to remain untouched by rising waters. But hell if it's a problem someone else will pay for the required infrastructure.

redcows
A little bit of background info for you. The photo that is used in this article is Haumoana in Hawkes Bay,
Firstly; the erosion is thought to be due a combination of changes in sediment supply and/or continuing coastal readjustment due to the 1931 earthquake (the coast has retreat some 30 or 40 metres since the area was uplift by about 0.5 metres in the earthquake). No doubt sea level rises have had some contribution.
Secondly; neither the Regional Council or the Hastings District Council have been prepared to fund remedial or preventive work; this has been carried out privately funded.
However, the council has funded work along a publicly used coastal road further along the coast benefiting all in the wider community.
In terms of Napier, housing on the coast was was uplifted over a less than one centre per year which provides considerable additional buffer against sea level rise. The main hazard zone in terms of sea level rise for Napier is the large urban area spreading out towards Taradale which was uplifted in the earthquake, built on but is lower lying than that housing on the coast. Napier City Council has already funded a number of pumping stations due to the increasing flood risk for this low lying wider urban area.
A simple example of how the situation is a lot more complex than your simplistic view that it is about protecting those with coastal properties.

Are you aware that there are between 400 and 600 Maori claims to every inch of foreshore and seabed around NZ currently being dealt with behind our backs? We can but hope that claims that they have lived there uninterrupted since I think 1845 would see many thrown out but given many are being dealt directly with Government and others are going to Court, who would know. I was hoping that Labour would throw out John Keys rapid agreement, for political expediency, to change Helen Clark's settlement back to what is was - no one owned the foreshore and seabed. Waiting....

Good on you DIDI. About time this hit the Headlines. Give climate change a well earned rest

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Article decoded:
'We are gonna sock youse Ratepayers with Send Munny notices to pay for stuff that might or might not happen, several decades from now, but which needs Lotsa expensive Planners, Consultants and others Who Know Best in order to draft a response Right Now.'

there is no 'might'. Only question is how fast.

Ah, nyet. Whether or not SLR, however caused, affects a locality is a two-factor equation: land up/downs plus sea level up/downs.

Poster child: Oaro through Kaikoura and up to Marfells Beach: proofed against many centuries worth of SLR via land uplift ranging from 1.5 to 6 metres during the Kaikoura earthquake sequence, which some alert commenters may recall. Ditto for parts of Christchurch (the tip of Southshore went Up 40cm in the Christchurch earthquake sequence..

All such issues are local, not particularly amenable to top-down, one-size-fits-all solutions. And being as how the land/tectonic side of the equation is for all practical purposes immune to forecasting, there's a level of fiscal uncertainty thereby introduced. Meaning - munny could be totally wasted.....

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Yes, storms and king tides cause erosion. However in 40 years I have detected no discernible change in aggregate sea levels. I'm all in on cutting single use plastics and protecting our oceans, but I'm increasingly over being lectured to by politicians and regulators about climate change

Sad to see such self-serving comments here. Bit like the West Coaster who turned out to be a miner (a very temporary way of life). We need to move beyond the vested-interest and the selfishness.

And it's not just a few rich coastal-dwellers. It's SH88 and large parts of SH1. It's large parts of the main trunk railway. Its every port. It's a lot of effuent systems, and a lot of buried infrastructure. The benefits are being had by those who are living NOW, the costs shoud therefore be shouldered by them. Seems there's still a bit of 'not I, said the Little Red Hen' about. Shame.

The big problem powerdownkiwi is the timeframes and the uncertainty that anything will affect the lives of those currently living. As soon as you start talking decades for change, peoples eyes glaze over. Lets face it most people are focused on their day to day "Must Do's" in life and don't even have the time to think about climate change. When you have stupid people like Trump who comes out with "What about global warming" when the USA gets hit with the worst ever freeze, is there any hope for humanity ?

I'd like to think so, but time is running out. And - given the exponential nature of growth, time is running out ever-faster. I suspect we will see a financial implosion/freeze-up at some soon point, which may re-set the clock. But the fear is that everyone will get right back to it, without learning anything. If that is the case, we will be a remnant species by century's end. Sad epitaph.

Time to start up my "Climate Change Remediation" business.

An inexhaustible amount of work to be had.

I'll make a killing I tells ya!

Looks to have been about 20m cumulative sea level change (up and down 1-3m several times) over last 8000 years: http://notrickszone.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Caryl_4.gif
That would average out to about 2-3mm annual change. About what we are experiencing now. Not panic worthy.

Upper ocean (0-2000m) from ARGO data, representing about half the global ocean volume, is only warming at 0.2-0.3°C per century. If you averaged with the rest of the lower ocean the combined rate of temp increase is probably half of that. Ocean limits the rate that atmosphere can warm.
https://jonova.s3.amazonaws.com/graphs/ocean/global-ocean-temperature-0-...
Again suggests that claims of massive warming 'in near future' are not credible, particularly without evidence of any acceleration to date

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_level_rise

There is some limited evidence of acceleration - we're now at 3.2mm per year (32cm per 100 years).

Sea level rise by 2100 anywhere between 26cm (current rate) to 270cm (worst case).

It's the rate of rise that is will be the issue and affects $/yr needed to move / upgrade infrastructure.

We can deal with 32cm per 100 years but 30cm per 10 years would mean wholesale retreat.

Council's probably need to draw up 10cm contours of sea level rise and deal with it that way & let the rate of change play out.

https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/sltrends/mslGlobalTrendsTable.html
Real sea level rise relative to seashores in tectonically stable locations (like Australia) is globally about 2mm/year. The 3.4mm/year number you see touted is sexed-up using a fiddle factor called GIA - and doesn't actually show up at coast. Of that 2mm about 0.6mm year is from human pumped groundwater!!! about 1mm/year of rise is thermal expansion (limited by enormous heat capacity of ocean) and icecap melt is <1mm. Icecaps present the only vaguely realistic potential global warming threat - but there is no real sign of significant problem from them and no real sign of acceleration in sea level rise. In fact if you remove the pumped water we might actually see a slowing!!!

As more and more accurate temperature data is collected (particularly ARGO data that tightly bounds the energy accumulating in earths oceans) a tighter and tighter bounding of the sensitivity of the climate to CO2 is being established. Over time the 'equilibrium climate sensitivity' to CO2 has dropped into a range where it is not longer a problem - the posited large H2O feedbacks touted by IPCC over last 2 decades turn out not to exist. Apocalypse cancelled:
https://s3.amazonaws.com/jo.nova/graph/models/model-trend/climate-sensit...

I'd be happy if they could just get the simple stuff that needs doing right now, sorted first;

https://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/110231136/lax-nitrates-rules-leave-p...

Yep, climate change drowns out: Over-fishing, deforestation, over-population, conventional pollution etc.

And things like our native flora/fauna getting eaten by rats, stoats etc.

Agree - and where "conventional pollution" in NZ is concerned - that being our freshwater rivers and lakes where we have our worst problems - de-intensification of farming solves both the pollution as well as the GHG emissions. It's a win-win in that regard.

And I'd add that I'd be much happier if the government funded farmers for de-intensification, as opposed to beachfront homeowners for re-location.

Warming appears to be mostly economically beneficial to NZ - it will increase agricultural output through warmer weather and extended growing seasons with higher rainfall in south island - the south islands irrigated east (water collected from higher rainfall in southern alps) will be particularly benefited. There is predicted to be a slight reduction in rainfall on east coast, on the order of a few %, which is down in the noise compared to yearly variability anyway: https://www.niwa.co.nz/sites/niwa.co.nz/files/imported/__data/assets/ima...

I hear there’s significant warming going on in Europe and North America...very worrisome indeed.

Donald, is that you?

Use the $30 bln we are giving to UN through GW farce signed at Paris.

Contrary to the alarmist reporting on IPCC models (that don't correspond to measured data, and therefore cannot be trusted), sea levels are not rising at a faster rate than pre-WW2. Insurance companies are delighted at the reason to raise premiums for minimal risk. Most councils too, are salivating at the thought of extra money from ratepayers and taxpayers. All over a "worst case" unproven computer model. Here's the real science: https://stovouno.org/2019/01/26/top-nz-scientist-describes-global-warmin...

Sea level rise in Auckland, similar to global temps, was rising at the same rate prior to WW2 as recently. But I guess back then people had real things to worry about. "The peak decadal rate of rise centred around 1994 at Auckland is of the same magnitude as that which was measured in the decade centred around 1943.
...The analysis reveals a consistent trend of weak deceleration at each of these gauge sites throughout Australasia over the period from 1940 to 2000.
...The longest continuous Australasian records, Fremantle and Auckland, situated on the western and eastern periphery of the Oceania region, respectively, exhibit remarkably similar trends in the relative 20-year moving average water level time series after 1920."
http://www.jcronline.org/doi/abs/10.2112/JCOASTRES-D-10-00141.1?journalC...

Pretty good lag I reckon: Pay us money now, and if nothing happens, you know that it worked.