$2.7 billion of Council Infrastructure Threatened by Half a Metre of Sea Level Rise

A new Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) report has mapped out various sea level rise scenarios, with $2.7 billion of roading, three waters, and building infrastructure at risk from as little as half a metre rise in sea level. 

The value of at-risk infrastructure ramped up sharply at each increment of sea level rise, with the data showing that $5.1b worth was at risk at 1 metre of sea level rise, with $7.1b at risk at 1.5m and $14.1b at risk at 3m.

The report only provides data on a regional basis so it’s difficult to assess the value of at-risk council infrastructure in the Thames-Coromandel District.  However, this graph shows that the ‘three waters’ infrastructure is greatly at risk in the Waikato Region.  Apart from a small largely underpopulated area on the west coast around Raglan, the Waikato region essentially means the Thames-Coromandel District Council as most of the coast is concentrated there.

north is infra1

Wastewater plants in the Waikato region are also threatened with 5 in the zone below 0.5 m.  Presumably, most if not all of these are in the Thames Coromandel District.

wastewater plants exposed

But we know from an earlier Risk Census carried out by NIWA that Thames, Whitianga and several other local communities are some of the most at-risk places in New Zealand from sea level rise when private assets are assessed.  Central government is undertaking a much more detailed risk assessment this year which will provide even more information about national and local risk levels.

Local Government New Zealand President David Cull said “Using sea level rise scenarios that are based on the best local and international scientific advice, our research paints a really stark picture for local communities,” “That’s not even factoring in the total value of assets at risk from sea level rise, which skyrockets when you start factoring things that sit on top of this infrastructure, like highways, homes, businesses, office buildings, hospitals, factories and schools.”

How Will This be Funded?

LGNZ is now calling on the Government to create a national climate change adaptation fund to help meet the costs.

“The objective of an adaptation fund would be to spread the fund over several generations. Let’s be proactive and get funding into [a fund] so you have got some resources.”

“The funding required won’t all come from local government [and] central government. I would imagine insurance companies will be involved, banks and property owners themselves will have to expect to take a hair cut.”

“I don’t think we have agreement on that – but the first thing is to get agreement that it is needed and a prudent thing to do.”

A good Panel discussion about who pays here

The Cost of Doing Nothing is Greater

The other important message from the report is that while the costs of responding to and preparing for sea level rise (and other, compounding changes to the climate) will be significant,  the costs of doing nothing are even greater.

Adaptation and Reducing Emissions Both Important

Another key recommendation emphasizes the call from local residents for TCDC to sign the Local Authority Leaders Declaration on Climate Change and integrate both adaptation and emission reduction efforts for its own activities.

“Councils should consider how their planning and decisions could address both adaptation and mitigation when making decisions about infrastructure. An integrated approach to both adapting to and mitigating the impacts of climate change provides an opportunity for local government to create synergies, deliver a range of co-benefits and potentially increase cost effectiveness.”

Engagement with Communities

One local government representative has suggested that we need to “step back” from openly talking about sea level rise impacts on our community.  But this is contradicted by the report which says that local government must lead a national conversation about levels of service currently provided and what can be anticipated in the short (1 – 10 years), medium (10 – 30 years) and long-term (30+ years). This should include “comprehensive and targeted communication and engagement by local government with residents and businesses exposed to rising sea levels.”  Amen to that.