There is currently a lot of attention on adaption for sea-level rise.
Scientists argued its urgency last week, predicting that increased sea-levels were sure to amplify the destruction caused by Hurricane Florence. Apprehension among the community of North Carolina was heightened when the National Weather Service commented that they could not overstate the threat of catastrophic flooding that the storm would bring.
Significant natural events like Hurricane Florence and ex-tropical cyclones Cook and Debbie, which both hit New Zealand last year, have a major impact on both our built and natural environments. However, although there are plans in place that cater to the adaption of our built environment, there is still limited visibility on plans to protect our ecological systems.
Technical Director of Environment, Carole Smith, discusses her vision for New Zealand’s adaption initiatives.
Extreme weather events have highlighted the vulnerability of major infrastructure assets and lifelines.
Over the past 15 years, a body of work has been installed to ensure that our buildings, emergency services and networks are equipped for such events. Last year, for instance, the Ministry of Environment (MFE) published a stock take report, Adapting to Climate Change in New Zealand, detailing the work towards the adaption of our technical working groups.
Designing resilient infrastructure instils trust, security and peace of mind for the people who rely on such lifelines daily. However, natural events are also shaping our untouched coastal environments, destroying the natural landmarks and affecting the wildlife that resides there.
Protection of our vulnerable ecological and heritage sites does not feature prominently in the conversation around sea-level rise. Which leads me to wonder…are we doing enough?
As a rough estimate, around 10% of our protected heritage sites are located within 100 m of the coast. These areas are also home to many of New Zealand’s critically threatened species, such as the Southern dotterel. Most dotterels nest in scapes in the sand, which are significantly damaged and destroyed by storm surge events and king tides.
The Threatened Species Recovery Plan doesn't specifically identify sea level rise as a threat for the species and therefore the advocacy, finance and land use planning needed to support adaption may not be happening.
I’m not detracting from the work that has been (and is being) done around climate change adaption. There are excellent examples of adaption such as the fairy tern habitat protection work completed by the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DoC) and the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) –my concern is that great work like this needs to happen at a quicker pace and be more widespread.
The reality is that land use planning measures and enhancement of habitat can take a significant amount of time to progress particularly because it will require significant funding inputs.
As an Auckland resident, I’m hopeful that the natural environment targeted rate proves an effective mechanism to fund critical ecological initiatives and it would be good to see such levies supporting important community-driven adaptation initiatives.
Carole Smith is Technical Director Environment at WSP Opus. With over 20 years’ experience in environmental consulting in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, she is passionate about making a difference for the environment and for our communities.