Dunedin Leads On Community Climate Consultation

Thames Coromandel Needs To Catch Up – Fast

South Dunedin is at the forefront of community efforts to adapt to sea level rise – particularly from groundwater flooding.  For several years strong efforts have been made by the City Council to engage with the local community, to make sure they are fully informed of the risks, and to work out community adaptation plans.  In Thames-Coromandel we have a lot to learn from their efforts.

53% of the houses on the flat in South Dunedin are inhabited by people who live alone, mostly older people. The area has attracted people with limited mobility because of its flat topography, support services, good access to shops and relatively low house prices.  The similarities with Moanataiari and other parts of the Thames foreshore are striking.

Some of the low-lying 600ha area in South Dunedin sits on land that was once dune, wetland and saltwater marshland.  Reclamation by European settlers began from the mid 1800s, slowly turning the natural wetland into the densely housed population of about 10,000 residents today.  Sound familiar?  – most of the Thames foreshore was similarly reclaimed.


Other factors that predispose the area to flooding include the poorly consolidated underlying sediment that appears to be sinking in some places, a shallow water table that is both connected to the nearby ocean and to groundwater, and to Dunedin attracting increasingly extreme rainfall events.  Again, strikingly similar to the situation in Thames except that the rate of subsidence on the Thames foreshore is closer to 10 mm rather than the 1mm – 2 mm observed in Dunedin.

So with almost identical problems to South Dunedin how is it that their civic leaders are at least 5 – 10 years ahead of Thames with confronting these problems?

As researchers and residents galvanise around the adaptation challenges faced by the South Dunedin community, likewise, the Dunedin City Council is also taking action.

  • In a South Dunedin Update leaflet drop to households this past winter, the DCC shared nine initiatives since 2015 that address and should mitigate future flooding.
  • The council’s “South Dunedin’s Future” strategy focuses on the medium and longer term implications of sea-level rise on the area. The council is especially interested in “opportunities for resolving more long-term intractable issues in the area”  TCDC has yet to even begun to develop a strategy.
  • In an effort to draw in expertise and build collaborative processes, the DCC is talking with local stakeholders, with a technical advisory group, with community leaders, including Ngai Tahu, and with an academic reference group.
  • By March 2019, the council will have started informed multi-year conversations with the residents of South Dunedin about the impacts of climate change. They are seeking an inclusive, reciprocal approach “to give as many people as possible a voice on these issues”.

“We need to go to them and talk to them in ways that work for them. “I genuinely believe the council, or central government, won’t have all the answers, we actually need to work with everyone in the room.”

As the community of South Dunedin takes positive steps forward, the City Council is  also alert to the inequities that climate change could bring to an already vulnerable community.  The Council has produced a “Communities and Climate Change” report which cites four “maladaptive processes” that can occur when adaptation is not managed well or equitably.

  • enclosure, for example, where public assets are transferred into private hands;
  • exclusion, where some stakeholders are excluded from decision making;
  • encroachment, when adaptation interventions encroach on protected natural habitat;
  • entrenchment, where adaptation worsens the inequities faced by already disadvantaged groups.

“This emphasises why the community has to develop an articulate, credible voice to prevent it getting  walked all over in the future in terms of being most at risk around climate change.”

“People consistently said we want more discussion, we want more involvement in our future,”  “People also really wanted stuff to happen now.”

Over to you TCDC – you have a lot of catching up to do.