Newly-released research shows that, in many places, rising sea levels due to climate change will impact Aotearoa as soon as 2040 rather than 2060 due to land subsidence being factored in. This means local government's time to react is effectively being squeezed. In this article we outline adaptation legislation in train and opportunities to learn more and provide input towards national planning to safeguard the future of our communities as well as billions of dollars of public and private assets.

Sea level rise AND coastline subsidence

Sea level rise is a well-known consequence of our changing climate. For a number of years, the projected rate of sea level rise has been of concern to those planning for the future of our coastal communities. On Monday, however, stark predictions were released which show that sea level rise will affect our communities faster and more significantly than previously thought. These predictions from NZ SeaRise Te Tai Pari O Aotearoa take into account land height variation as a result of seismic activity. This means that some areas will experience more sea level rise at a faster rate due to land subsidence. The release of a sea level rise map which give predictions for every 2km of Aotearoa’s coastline will inform Councils and property owners as to when inundation will likely occur in their area.

A national plan for adaptation

The release of the sea level rise map comes just a week after the Government released the draft National Adaptation Plan. The daft Plan outlines some mechanisms for the measures that may be used to help New Zealanders adapt to increased natural hazard risk such as that from sea level rise. The plan, if initially seen as slightly unambitious, is decidedly so considering the latest predictions.

Taituarā Climate Change Forum 

In areas where land is subsiding at a high rate, such as Auckland and Wellington, 30cm of sea level rise is expected in twenty years' time. This halves the time some Councils have to implement adaptation plans for coastal communities. How Councils undergo mitigation and adaptation measures to reduce the impact of climate change on their communities is therefore a prescient topic. In June this year, Taituarā is hosting a Climate Change Online Forum which will provide guidance and best practice examples on how to undertake the necessary actions to plan for climate change and how to effectively engage on and communicate these plans with communities. 

Communicating with affected communities

The sea level rise map also provides a good tool to communicate the climate risk property owners and purchasers may face. This will help build on and inform the work the Department of Internal Affairs has been undertaking to increase understanding of the climate risks properties face. Under their Community Resilience programme, a package of changes to the LIM system aims to improve information prospective buyers have regarding the natural hazards and climate risks associated with a particular property.

The research published by NZ SeaRise Te Tai Pari O Aotearoa and the associated mapping tool is a clear wake up call to Councils and coastal communities that the time to act is now. Comprehensive planning, hard conversations with communities, and significant investment over the next few years will be necessary to mitigate and adapt to the imminent risk climate change poses to our communities.

Get in touch

If you have any questions, or wish to provide comment, please contact Jen Coatham, our Advisor, Strategy and Reform.