“The cost of climate change” from Story from Radio New Zealand by Radio New Zealand”.  (audio)

Here is a recent panel discussion at the University of Otago, chaired by Radio New Zealand’s Guyon Espiner, on the threats from climate change that coastal communities will face over coming decades.

It is remarkable for the fact that there is no mention of earthquake subsidence in eastern Canterbury, and the dramatic exacerbation of the threat from sea level rise for communities such as South New Brighton.
The panel does refer to the Flockton Basin and to property owners who have remained in the “Red Zone”, as well as to the responsibilities local government has towards them.

Adaptation strategies mentioned by the four academics include the obvious approach of raising the floors of new builds. In South New Brighton, as we know, the council took the opposite approach and reduced the floor height for new builds (an unfortunate error we were told), thereby leaving houses at vastly increased risk of flooding.

The disaster in Matatā in the Bay of Plenty is also mentioned as an example of “extinguishing existing use rights”. Regional Councils (such as Environment Canterbury) have the power to extinguish existing uses, especially in the context of hazard management. Once again, Canterbury witnessed the opposite approach – the widespread application of existing use rights, allowing insurance rebuilds to remain at the same height, even in coastal areas facing rising seas. The recently introduced “residential unit overlay” is continuing this practice, while at the same time absolving the Christchurch City Council of liability.

Mr Espiner argues that the failure on the part of the authorities to point out the risks for the future is tantamount to “setting people up for disaster”. This is precisely what we have seen in Christchurch.
Central and local government, along with insurance companies, have been fully aware of the future risks in the eastern suburbs of Christchurch, but, apart from the red zones, Sumner and Redcliffs, have done little to provide protection against them (by way of higher floor levels, flood protection measures or relocation), or to ensure the future insurability of properties. The risks have been systematically transferred to homeowners. A Productivity Commission query whether people might perhaps assume all of the risks relating to their property is dismissed by one panelist as a terrifying and ridiculous question.