9 Jan 2014

Scientist urges action on coast threat

9:01 pm on 9 January 2014

A climate scientist is urging the Government to begin discussions with the country's councils on what they plan to do about rising sea levels.

A report on rising sea levels released on Wednesday recommended that the Christchurch City Council prepare the city for the prospect of some of its coastal areas being under water within 100 years.

Storm repairs to a seawall at Island Bay, Wellington.

Storm repairs to a seawall at Island Bay, Wellington. Photo: PHOTO NZ

The report by environmental and engineering consultancy Tonkin and Taylor predicts that Sumner, New Brighton, South Shore and Brooklands will be among the areas flooded by the rising sea.

Climate scientist Jim Salinger began encouraging the council to start planning for a 1 metre rise in sea level more than two years ago, and the council now plans to include the estimate in its new district plan.

However, Dr Salinger points out rising sea levels are not restricted to Christchurch and said central and local government should assess the whole coast.

He said the issue is significant, given 14 of New Zealand's 17 largest towns and cities are at sea level or near the coast.

Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel told Radio New Zealand's Summer Report programme on Thursday rising sea levels are a global and nationwide problem, and Christchurch is already in the process of putting together a solution as part of its district plan review.

Lianne Dalziel.

Lianne Dalziel. Photo: RNZ

"This is an incredibly helpful start to a really important conversation. I'm glad that Christchurch is kind of leading the way because we really do want to learn the lessons of what we've been through."

Land in the Christchurch suburb of Brooklands has already sunk by up to 30 centimetres because of the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.

Resident Stephen Bourke says it is not clear whether the council, the Earthquake Commission (EQC) or private insurers will take responsibility for raising his house to the new flood level.

The EQC says it is working to identify properties that have been made vulnerable to flooding because of quake damage and has not yet determined what settlement it will make.

Insurers say they're not responsible for repairing sinking Christchurch land, but only for the house and foundations on which the house sits.

Insurance Council spokesperson Samson Samasoni told Summer Report there needs to be more debate about how New Zealand can better protect itself from climate change conditions and its consequences.