Local councils want a nationwide strategy to deal with the risk of coastal erosion and the funding to make it possible.
This follows two reports from Niwa, warning the country tends to react to events rather than prepare for them.
Local Government New Zealand president and Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull told Nine to Noon many councils were unprepared and would not have the money to cope with erosion risk in their communities.
He said councils must be able to plan ahead and put restrictions in place to avoid building in at-risk areas.
"The reports recently released have identified there's a complete lack of adaptation planning, you can't wait for these things to happen, you have to be really proactive and the previous government pretty much buried its head in the sand."
It was unclear who was responsible for dealing with coastal erosion and there was no way smaller communities would be able to front up with the money needed, Mr Cull said.
He would like to see the a local government risk agency set-up to help councils with advice and expertise.
The agency would also be beneficial to central government, which provides assistance after major natural disasters.
Without a current mandate councils can fall prey to litigation by property owners with affected assets, Mr Cull said.
Hawke's Bay councillor Peter Beaven said New Zealand should follow the example of countries like the UK.
"The British government actually went through the coastline in some detail and worked out what their strategy should be for the long term, whether they should maintain status quo, whether they should think about managed retreat or defend the coastline in some way," he said.
"Once they made those decisions they then turned that over to the local authorities."
The British government was happy to fund local governments to manage erosion as long as they are meeting the agreed strategy, Mr Beaven said.