Is New Zealand prepared for climate change?

News 05/04/2019

An international planning expert has joined the chorus of people urging New Zealand to start taking climate change seriously.

Former US State Legislator Sue Minter told The AM Show that climate change will affect the country in multiple ways.

"I think we have to realise that climate change is real and it is here and obviously New Zealand is under threat whether you look at coastal erosion, sea level rise or storm surge.

These are just some of the very serious hazards that, because of your geography, you really have to face.

Minter will be appearing at the New Zealand Planning Institute's (NZPI) annual conference, where she will speak about her experience leading the response in her home state of Vermont to Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

The storm caused extensive flooding and cost the state an estimated $US175-200 million dollars in damage.

"This transformed our state, our people, our communities and helped us understand that we need to think differently.

"I ran the transportation agency. We're beginning to think differently about how we construct our bridges, our culverts, where we put our roads, how we understand the interaction of nature."

The cost of future climate change and its effects on New Zealand was recently discussed in a report commissioned by Local Government NZ.

If the sea level rises 1.5m by 2100 - which is at the higher end of scientists' predictions - the report says the cost of replacing council infrastructure would be $8 billion. At 3m - which isn't outside the realms of probability - this would rise to $13 billion.

Almost half the total would need to be spent replacing swamped drinking, storm and waste water assets. If the sea gets higher, bridges, landfills, green space, airports and treatment plants would also be affected.

Even the almost-certain rise of only 0.5m would see $1.4 billion in damage done to council infrastructure.

Minister for Climate Change James Shaw said the report highlights the "sheer magnitude of devastation" sea level rises can cause.

"It would destroy critical infrastructure that allows our communities to function and thrive. The consequences of that are frightening. To delay or weaken our stance would be to the detriment of New Zealand communities."

Minter says the NZPI conference is just one part of the beginning of a response to the threats posed by climate change.

Now is the time to begin those very difficult conversations and that's exactly what planners are trying to do.

And for those thinking of retiring to a bach by the sea? Minter says they should be wary.

"Living near and around the sea is going to be a very windy event and climactic event."

The AM Show / Newshub reporter Albert Redmore