Climate change an 'immediate threat'

Coastal communities are affected by storm surges, which will increase in severity with sea level rise. File picture by Paul Rickard

A TAIRAWHITI educator and environmentalist is calling on national politicians to discuss the immediate impacts of climate change in the lead-up to the general election.

Te Wananga o Aotearoa indigenous and environmental kaiako (educator) Tina Ngata (Ngati Porou) said while politicians were discussing cutting emissions and goals like carbon-free 2050, the impacts were already being felt here.

“People are talking like this is a distant scenario, not a current reality,” she said.

Coastal communities were already affected by storm surges, which would only increase in severity with sea level rise.

Reporua Marae, on the East Coast near Ruatoria, was under immediate threat, Ms Ngata said.

Further south, the urupa at Kaiaua was washing away, while Waipiro Bay was facing similar challenges.

Beachfront properties at Wainui Beach would also bear the brunt of rising sea levels.

Reporua Marae secretary Natalie Lewis (Ngati Uepohatu) said their small community was affected by increasing amounts of slash that came with more intense storms, and the rising seas.

“We are getting more sediment and slash coming down the Waiapu, which covers the kaimoana, especially paua, which dies in the sand.”

Sea coming closer

During big swells, the sea was coming within three metres of the marae.

“We can hear the sea coming closer and closer. It is washing away the bank holding the marae.”

Their main focus was on planting trees to hold the bank.

“But we need more help. Action needs to start now.”

A government coastal hazards report on the pressing impacts of climate change, compiled by the Ministry for the Environment, was leaked to the Green Party and released last week.

Co-leader James Shaw said it painted a more accurate picture of the scale of climate change than previous reports and the Government should have released it.

The report said a modest sea level rise of about 30 to 40cm would lead to “present-day, rare storm-tide inundation events” hitting New Zealand once a year on average. This could happen as soon as 2050.

A risk census found $19 billion of property was threatened by increased flooding and coastal erosion.

The “higher levels of coastal risk exposure” would affect more than 43,000 homes, 133,000 people, five airports, more than 2000 kilometres of road and 46km of railway.

About half the threatened sites were in urban areas such as Auckland, Hawke’s Bay, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

Coastal settlements

But smaller coastal settlements with fewer resources were also affected.

Councils, businesses and families needed to know that information so they could start planning, Mr Shaw said.

Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton told Newshub last week almost 70,000 properties could be uninsurable within 20 to 30 years.

Ms Ngata said the impacts could be even greater, depending on how much ice melts.

“If you look at different sea level rise scenarios, depending on how much of the Greenland ice shelf, or Arctic ice shelf, melts, most coastal communities are under threat, including Gisborne.”

Politicians needed to start planning for the evacuation of such communities, and relocating coastal marae and urupa.

“Emission rates need to reverse, not just reduce. But that needs to be coupled with a response about the very immediate and current threat.”

These discussions would also need to address climate change refugees, not only from overseas, but those displaced internally.

The Maori Party and the Green Party both had policies to support an increase in refugees from overseas due to climate change impacts, but not those within.

“We are looking at imminent displacement within New Zealand too and there is complete radio silence about that so far,” Ms Ngata said.

“We need policies about internal displacement. For many coastal communities, the relocation of our marae, urupa and homes is inescapable, so it requires resourcing and support.”

A TAIRAWHITI educator and environmentalist is calling on national politicians to discuss the immediate impacts of climate change in the lead-up to the general election.

Te Wananga o Aotearoa indigenous and environmental kaiako (educator) Tina Ngata (Ngati Porou) said while politicians were discussing cutting emissions and goals like carbon-free 2050, the impacts were already being felt here.

“People are talking like this is a distant scenario, not a current reality,” she said.

Coastal communities were already affected by storm surges, which would only increase in severity with sea level rise.

Reporua Marae, on the East Coast near Ruatoria, was under immediate threat, Ms Ngata said.

Further south, the urupa at Kaiaua was washing away, while Waipiro Bay was facing similar challenges.

Beachfront properties at Wainui Beach would also bear the brunt of rising sea levels.

Reporua Marae secretary Natalie Lewis (Ngati Uepohatu) said their small community was affected by increasing amounts of slash that came with more intense storms, and the rising seas.

“We are getting more sediment and slash coming down the Waiapu, which covers the kaimoana, especially paua, which dies in the sand.”

Sea coming closer

During big swells, the sea was coming within three metres of the marae.

“We can hear the sea coming closer and closer. It is washing away the bank holding the marae.”

Their main focus was on planting trees to hold the bank.

“But we need more help. Action needs to start now.”

A government coastal hazards report on the pressing impacts of climate change, compiled by the Ministry for the Environment, was leaked to the Green Party and released last week.

Co-leader James Shaw said it painted a more accurate picture of the scale of climate change than previous reports and the Government should have released it.

The report said a modest sea level rise of about 30 to 40cm would lead to “present-day, rare storm-tide inundation events” hitting New Zealand once a year on average. This could happen as soon as 2050.

A risk census found $19 billion of property was threatened by increased flooding and coastal erosion.

The “higher levels of coastal risk exposure” would affect more than 43,000 homes, 133,000 people, five airports, more than 2000 kilometres of road and 46km of railway.

About half the threatened sites were in urban areas such as Auckland, Hawke’s Bay, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

Coastal settlements

But smaller coastal settlements with fewer resources were also affected.

Councils, businesses and families needed to know that information so they could start planning, Mr Shaw said.

Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton told Newshub last week almost 70,000 properties could be uninsurable within 20 to 30 years.

Ms Ngata said the impacts could be even greater, depending on how much ice melts.

“If you look at different sea level rise scenarios, depending on how much of the Greenland ice shelf, or Arctic ice shelf, melts, most coastal communities are under threat, including Gisborne.”

Politicians needed to start planning for the evacuation of such communities, and relocating coastal marae and urupa.

“Emission rates need to reverse, not just reduce. But that needs to be coupled with a response about the very immediate and current threat.”

These discussions would also need to address climate change refugees, not only from overseas, but those displaced internally.

The Maori Party and the Green Party both had policies to support an increase in refugees from overseas due to climate change impacts, but not those within.

“We are looking at imminent displacement within New Zealand too and there is complete radio silence about that so far,” Ms Ngata said.

“We need policies about internal displacement. For many coastal communities, the relocation of our marae, urupa and homes is inescapable, so it requires resourcing and support.”

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