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Preparing Coastal Communities for Climate Change

A report analysing the vulnerability of coastal communities to climate change has been released by Greater Wellington Regional Council and the region’s councils.

Preparing Coastal Communities for Climate Change takes an in-depth look at the extent to which the region’s coastal communities are vulnerable to climate change, sea level rise and natural hazards.

Commissioned by Greater Wellington and the region’s eight councils through their Wellington Region Subgroup on Coastal Adaptation, the report identifies the high-level vulnerability of the region’s different coastal areas to sea level rise and coastal erosion.

Subgroup chair Greater Wellington councillor Dr Roger Blakeley say building our knowledge on the impact of climate change is an essential precursor to planning.

“People are calling for action on climate change now, and we understand that. But, successful, lasting action depends on a clear understanding of how climate change will affect our coastal communities.

“This report and other information we have produced, such as our sea level and storm surge mapping tool, will contribute to the knowledge inputs required for long term adaptation to new circumstances for people living near vulnerable coasts.”

The report does not provide property-level data but does enable identification of different levels of vulnerability.

The work will help Greater Wellington and the councils establish processes for working with communities to develop long-term adaptive strategies.

Each council in the Wellington region understands how important it is to engage with their communities on climate change. The approach will differ between councils but what is common to all is the need to start talking about this important issue and to start sharing information.

More detailed assessments for each area will be carried out with communities following initial community engagement.

Future strategies for dealing with climate change must be grounded on a comprehensive programme of research, and this report provides a step forward in understanding its impacts.

The report was prepared by specialist resource management consultancy Mitchell Daysh, with oversight from a cross-council team led by Dr Iain Dawe, Senior Policy Advisor (Hazards) at Greater Wellington.
The maps in the report do not show predicted sea level rise but show levels of vulnerability, taking account of sea level rise and coastal erosion, and other factors such as socio-economic status of communities, infrastructure, waahi tapu sites and ecological areas.


Preparing Coastal Communities for Climate Change is available on the Greater Wellington Regional Council website: http://www.gw.govt.nz/natural-hazards-management-strategy


What are councils doing about climate change?

All councils in the Greater Wellington region are actively considering how to deal with the impacts of climate change on their communities. Information is available on council websites and by contacting councils direct. Information can also be found on the Greater Wellington website http://www.gw.govt.nz/climate-change

Who commissioned this report and why?

The report was commissioned as an initiative of the Wellington Region Natural Hazards Management Steering Group, and the Community-led Coastal Adaptation Sub-group of the Wellington Region Climate Change Working Group. Support was given by the Wellington Mayoral Forum and the Councils of the region: Greater Wellington Regional Council, Wellington City Council, Kāpiti Coast District Council, Hutt City Council, Porirua City Council, Upper Hutt City Council, Masterton District Council, Carterton District Council and South Wairarapa District Council.

The work was commissioned to assess, at a regional level, which parts of the Wellington coastline were the most at risk due to sea level rise. This report will help inform decision-making, by councils as they work with their communities to develop strategies to appropriately manage this issue.

How much did this report cost?

The report cost $60,000.

Who did this research?

The Report was prepared by Mitchell Daysh, a specialist resource management consultancy, and overseen by a technical group of council officers. The research was informed by Dr Iain Dawe a Senior Policy Advisor (Hazards) at Greater Wellington Regional Council, who mapped the coastal units and analysed the data sets. Other council officers on the steering group for the Sub-group on Community-led Coastal Adaptation also contributed.

Why is it important to start planning for climate change and what are councils doing about it?

Much of New Zealand’s population and infrastructure is located on coastlines exposed to rising sea levels, coastal erosion and flooding, which will be intensified by climate change.

As a consequence, councils are responding to their mandate to work with their communities to address coastal hazard issues and the threat of rising sea levels and erosion including managing public assets in affected areas. The Wellington region’s councils are committed to working together, and with local communities, on looking at the most at-risk areas and discussing options on how to adapt and respond in the short, medium and long term to different scenarios of climate change effects, such as sea level rise, erosion and flooding.

Each council has responsibilities, under the Local Government Act 2002 and other legislation (including the Resource Management Act 1991), for managing the effects of natural hazards, such as coastal erosion, on their communities.

Climate change will have a significant impact in terms of rising sea levels, flooding and other impacts such as more frequent extreme weather events, changing rainfall patterns and salination of the water table

Recognising these impacts on our coastal communities over the coming years the Wellington Region Climate Change Working Group, including all councils in the region, established in late 2018 a regionally coordinated sub-group focused on the issue of coastal adaptation.

The first stage of this work was to assess, at a regional level, which parts of the Wellington coastline were the most at risk to sea level rise. This work was done to inform the decision-making, by councils, about working with their communities in the future to develop adaptive strategies to appropriately manage this issue.

What is the scope of the report?

The report is an input to planning processes. Results in the report do not take into account existing or planned infrastructure or potential response measures. It is an input to preparing long-term adaptive strategies to inform discussions by communities on planning for the forecast impacts of climate change.

The report also does not focus on the response to risk and is not part of a statutory process. Rather it identifies areas that are at risk in terms of forecast sea level rise and storm surges using existing data from various sources.

The report also notes that, particularly in the Wellington region, an important component of sea level rise relates to vertical land changes as a result of tectonic activity and earthquakes. Currently the region is subsiding long term as a result of plate tectonics, but from time to time events like the Kaikoura earthquakes occur and cause additional subsidence and/or uplift in the short term. As a result of annual climatic and tectonic variations, it may be a few decades before we know which forecast the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change sea level rise trajectory we are on.

What is Greater Wellington's role?

Greater Wellington’s responsibilities include environment management and flood protection for the Wellington region. It provides specialist advice and expertise to councils in the Wellington region as they develop strategies to deal with sea level rise and other forecast impacts of climate change.

Why isn't Wellington City Council included in this report?

Wellington City Council is a member of the Wellington Regional Climate Change Working Group and the Community-led Coastal Adaptation Sub-group, and supports the regional approach. Wellington City Council did not participate in the study as they had already completed a detailed report around risk and vulnerability of the city to sea level rise. Wellington City has recently completed a community-led coastal adaptation process with the community of Makara.

Were Iwi consulted?

Yes, Mana Whenua are represented on both the Regional Climate Change Working Group and the sub-group on Community-led Coastal Adaptation. The proportion of Mana Whenua sites in the coastal land units was one of the criteria used in the assessment.

What criteria/factors did the report take into account?

The report draws upon the direction laid out Ministry for the Environment guidance document “Coastal hazards and climate change guidance for local government (2017)” It is also informed by the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement.

The report relies on existing data sources and is a high-level assessment. It is anticipated that more detailed assessments may need to be undertaken as part of the development of the adaptation strategies that are planned to follow this work.

The assessment of “vulnerability”, as defined in the report, is part of Step 4 in the above framework. This work was focused on the identification of which coastal areas are most at risk of forecast impacts of climate change specifically sea level rise, coastal inundation and erosion, and other factors such as socio-economic status of communities, infrastructure, waahi tapu sites and ecological areas.

The methodology used is described in Sections 5.1 and 5.1.1 (pp. 29 – 44) of the report with the criteria used in the assessment described in Section 5.1.2 of the report (pp. 45 – 50)

What are the next steps?

The Report will be one input into each council’s processes for starting to work on long-term adaptive strategies. Each council will consider the report alongside other information to inform their approach.

Adapting to sea level rise will involve many stakeholders including central government, local councils including infrastructure and roading teams, Iwi and local communities. The councils within the region will thoroughly consider the report and determine how the work should be progressed in their areas by working with their communities

How will communities have their say?

The voice of our communities is crucial as climate change will impact each one of us. We need to have information and access to the latest science and thinking about the impacts of climate change on our environment. Each council is at different stages of engagement with their communities.

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