The New Zealand the government has released new plans to try to prepare the country for the catastrophic effects of the climate crisis: rising sea levels, floods, mass storms and forest fires.
Suggestions released for consultation on Wednesday, describe large-scale reforms of institutions, councils and laws to try to stop people from building in dangerous areas, preserve cultural values, improve disaster response, protect the financial system from future disasters and reform key industries including tourism and fisheries.
“The climate is already changing, and there will be some consequences that we cannot avoid,” said Climate Change Minister James Shaw. “Only in the last few months have we observed massive floods, for example, in Tairoviti; storms, like those that were recently in Westport; fires in the Whitong Swamps in Southland; and droughts across the country. ”
“These developments demonstrate the need for urgent action on climate change – action to protect lives, income, homes, businesses and infrastructure.”
Over the past year, some New Zealand communities have been repeatedly hit by devastating floods. In March, Tairoviti was hit by a second devastating flood in less than a year. Flooding water damaged homes, schools and infrastructure, s residents say “It will take about a year to clean up.” Last year, as a result of flooding in Westport, 450 homes were uninhabitable or damaged.
At the forefront of the plan is the problem of how to adapt New Zealand’s cities and housing stock, most of which are coastal, to the risk of rising seas and flood waters.
According to the government, the scale of the problem is huge: 675,000 people – one in seven New Zealanders – live in flood-prone areas, homes worth nearly $ 100 billion. Another 72,065 live in areas that are projected to be subject to extreme sea level rise.
“The number of people at risk will increase as climate changes,” the report said. It was found that between 2007 and 2017, the contribution of climate change to floods and droughts alone cost New Zealanders approximately $ 840 million in insurance losses and economic losses. These figures pose a major challenge for homeowners facing loss of ability to insure their homes with increasing risk, as well as for local and central governments faced with fierce uprising of some communities when trying to push them away from danger.
The changes proposed by the government include updating the building code to ensure that new buildings take into account climate hazards, ensuring the construction of public housing away from danger, creating incentives for development away from high-risk areas and introducing mandatory disclosure of information on climate risks for builders. . Some of these measures are likely to be of concern to homeowners who are concerned that climate risk assessments may lower the value of their homes.
Shaw was clear that the government would not raise the bill for all such changes. “The central government does not bear all the costs,” he said. “The consultation asks how best to share risks and costs between property and asset owners, insurers, banks and local governments.”
The draft National Adaptation Plan outlines actions the government will take over the next six years to respond to climate risks. It also includes proposals for the protection of important cultural sites such as coastal seas [māori meeting houses], as well as adapt state-funded infrastructure to climate warming. It also covers proposed tourism sector reforms to ensure that foreign visitors “contribute to a sustainable, adaptable infrastructure and the natural environment they use” – possibly through arrival fees or other tourist taxes.
Professor Bronwyn Hayward of the University of Canterbury said through the Science Media Center that the plan “shows the magnitude of the challenge facing the government after years of inactivity.”
“Now we need to implement climate planning recommendations in a number of new pieces of legislation, and we need to think carefully about how people are being re-exposed to floods – and I would add fires – in the future. If the owners of houses, businesses, schools, ports or airports, for example, are forced to leave the high-risk zone, who pays? ”
Professor Anita Ureford of Lincoln University said the plan was “long overdue” and “improving New Zealand’s current approach to danger, which has been very reactive and focused on post-event recovery”.
But she said the proposals are still very high and should provide “much more guidance for decision makers”.
“I suspect that the groups that were expecting this … may have been hoping for more specific directions in implementing the adaptation to achieve these goals.”
The plan will be open for public discussion before the proposals are finalized by the government.
“Aatearoa will soon have a plan to reduce our emissions and prevent the worst effects of climate change,” Shaw said, “but we must also support communities that have already been affected by more extreme and more frequent weather events.”