Step Up – Don’t Step Back

The comments made by Thames Coromandel’s elected member on the Regional Council Dal Minogue in the Hauraki Herald on 18 January calling for a “more measured approach” and to “step back” from openly discussing the threat of sea level rise were so wrongheaded it’s hard to know where to start.  I’m sure Dal made the comments in good faith thinking he was helping coastal property owners.  But in fact, he is doing coastal owners a huge disservice by trying to downplay the risks.  Here’s why.

His comment “to assume a whole bunch of things that might not even happen is really dangerous and not very productive” is contradicted by a whole bunch of official expert reports including from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and the Government Guidance to the Waikato Regional Council (of which he is an elected member for Thames-Coromandel).  Those expert reports say at least 0.4 m of sea level rise is locked in and is going to happen as a result of past emissions regardless of efforts we take from now on to reduce emissions.  There is no “assumption” about it – we’re going to see at least this level of sea level rise by around 2050 – 2060 – possibly sooner.  That is within the term of an existing house mortgage. 

The Parliamentary Commissioner has warned that even a 40 cm sea level rise will mean present-day extreme 1 in 100-year events – (such as on January 5, 2018, when Thames and Kaiaua were seriously flooded) become an annual affair.

half M rise ann event Parl Comm

Then we have the New Zealand Insurance Council warning us that more than one sea flooding event within about 20 years (not every year) will be enough for insurance companies to withdraw cover from coastal properties.  Already insurance retreat is happening in a few places.  Once insurance cover is progressively withdrawn in more and more coastal locations, buying and selling of coastal property becomes much more difficult.  So these impacts on coastal property owners have already begun and will become widespread within the next decade in some coastal areas of the Coromandel Peninsula. 

Recently the Reserve Bank warned of the serious economic consequences of sea level rise on coastal property, and Local Government New Zealand and central government are actively assessing the risk around New Zealand.

We already know from a past risk assessment by NIWA that Thames, Whitianga and numerous other local coastal settlements are some of the most at-risk places in New Zealand from sea level rise.

So, Dal’s call for a “stepping back” flies in the face of the advice flowing from conservative government agencies and coastal hazard experts.

Apart from the warnings from the Insurance Council and Reserve Bank, and the Landlords Association there had been scores of articles already published about the threat to coastal property – and property values – from sea level rise –  with numerous interviews on radio and TV such as this one with risk expert Belinda Storey whose parents own coastal property in Whitianga. 

Dal’s suggestion that one further well-researched article by one of our leading journalists reinforcing this message in the Hauraki Herald will in and of itself devalue local property is ludicrous.  That horse has well and truly bolted.

A guiding principle in our consumer protection laws is to ensure that people are given the best information so that they can make an informed decision about risk.  Some people will ignore risk and remain in or buy property in flood-prone areas and others will choose not to. Official government sources, the media, and LIM reports all help with this information flow.  It’s unfortunate that Dal attempted to downplay these risks.  And his suggestion that conservative responsible bodies such as the Insurance Council, LGNZ, The Ministry for the Environment and the Reserve Bank and other official sources are “doom and gloom merchants” does him no credit.

As for the “silent majority” that Dal supposes he is representing – well it’s a myth.  Recent public opinion surveys e.g. by IAG show that close to 80% of New Zealanders want urgent climate action and 88%  appreciate that there will be serious threats to coastal dwellers.

iag survey

Rather than “stepping back” we require our elected representatives to “step up” and make sure they make sure their constituents are honestly and fully informed about coastal hazards. 

15 year old Greta Grunberg sums up what we need from out politicians –