19 Feb 2015

'Massive risk' to coastal property

7:04 pm on 19 February 2015

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has told MPs New Zealanders can't bury their heads in the sand over rising sea levels - even at the risk of driving down coastal property prices.

Ocean erosion threatens the coastal route.

Sea damage to a cliff in the South Island (file photo) Photo: RNZ

In 2014, Commissioner Jan Wright found that New Zealand would be hit by more frequent coastal flooding in the future as sea levels rise.

Jan Wright.

Jan Wright. Photo: SUPPLIED

Today, Dr Wright told the Local Government and Environment Select Committee that she would be releasing a follow-up report identifying infrastructure and property at high risk from rising seas.

But committee chairman Scott Simpson was worried about the impact the report could have.

"My concern both as a member of this committee and as a local constituent MP is that the report has significant potential to have a detrimental financial impact on property owners of coastal property," he said.

Dr Wright replied that rising seas levels would hit coastal property owners in the pocket regardless.

"People will find themselves unable to insure their properties and I think the idea is to protect as many people from that situation as possible.

"This is not easy for anyone but sometimes we have to have these hard conversations, and the insurance industry is right onto this - they're not going to be soft about it," she said.

Another committee member, Labour's Megan Woods, found Mr Simpson's fears hard to fathom.

"This isn't about choosing or not to alter someone's property value, this is about the reality of what climate change means and rising sea levels and we're seeing that around the country."

Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton

Insurance Council chief executive Tim Grafton Photo: RNZ / Jonathan Mitchell

Insurance Council CEO Tim Grafton warned New Zealand could not afford to ignore the consequences of rising sea levels.

He said it was inevitable the risks associated with living by the coast would increase, and insurance premiums would follow suit.

"Sea level rise is a critical issue, we have a lot of property along coastline and near river mouths in New Zealand. And so, sea level rise combined with storm surge and high-tides which will occur in the future pose a massive risk to property," Mr Grafton said.

Dr Wright said a 30 centimetre rise in sea levels by 2050 was inevitable due to climate change, and what happened after that depended on the global commitment to cutting carbon emissions.