NZ govt dumps national environmental standard for sea level rise

The New Zealand government has ordered officials at the Ministry of Environment to stop work on the development of a national environmental standard (NES) on sea level rise, enquiries by the Science Media Centre have revealed. Lack of an NES for future sea level increases will force each local authority to make up its own mind about how much to allow for ocean encroachment. A ministry spokesman told the SMC:

At this stage there are no plans to progress the proposed NES. The Minister for the Environment has made it clear that current guidance provides local government with both the information and the flexibility to plan locally for rises in sea levels.

An NES on sea level rise would have simplified sea level planning for local authorities, who currently may choose to rely on “guidance” provided by the ministry, based on work by NIWA. This currently suggests that authorities should allow for 0.5 m rise by the 2090s, and that they should consider the impacts of a 0.8 m rise in that time frame.

There are two major problems here: the current guidance numbers, first published in 2009, are increasingly out of line with the latest research, and the lack of a national standard means that climate sceptics can waste time and ratepayer money by forcing planning authorities to adjudicate on their minority views.

In a briefing on sea level this afternoon, organised by the Science Media Centre as a preamble to the sea level conference in Wellington later this week, NIWA’s Doug Ramsay showed this slide:


It’s immediately obvious that the current NZ guidance numbers are well below most of the recent published work on the subject. An 80 cm rise, currently the highest suggested, is now the bottom of most projected increases, with the maximum rise falling between 1.6 and 2 metres. These numbers are not yet formal Ministry for the Environment “guidance”, so local authorities choosing to rely on the old numbers could be making extremely unwise planning decisions.

The lack of an NES also leaves local authorities to deal with their local climate sceptics, as the Waikato Regional Council has discovered in its current hearings on its proposed Regional Policy Statement. Barry Brill, chairman of the NZ Climate “Science” Coalition, made submissions1 to the effect that the council should ignore the ministry guidance on climate change and sea level.

There has been a deceleration in the rise of regional sea levels during the past half century, and a cessation during the past decade. The former mean estimate of a 32cm rise by 2100 is now very unlikely.

Brill clearly hasn’t been keeping up with the literature. However, because of the lack of a national standard, the regional council have to give his strangely ill-informed views the benefit of a hearing. Local democracy at work, you might say, but regional politicians and their advisors are not experts on this subject2. Aside from the waste of time and money involved in dealing with Brill, there is also a danger that the council might actually take him seriously — in which case Brill’s legacy to the entire region could be immensely damaging and costly.

  1. Brill’s submissions – submission, annexes – strangely neglect to mention his affiliation to the NZ CSC. []
  2. Neither is retired lawyer and temperature litigant Brill. []

9 thoughts on “NZ govt dumps national environmental standard for sea level rise”

  1. It looks like we are in the proverbial “second term in office” when there is no more hiding from the reality of who is in power (just…) in NZ….

    Not only do we have a PM who obviously condones blatant law compliance evasion by Ministers of his Government (asking for two checks, Banks style…….) but who also pays back to his right wing support base when it comes to attempting the evasion from natural laws….

    While justice in front of the court of law may be evading us under the Bana Republic state of affairs under the current leadership in such “minor” matters as hiding the donor under split checks or forgetting the helicopter rides involved, nature and her natural laws have no regard for fudgers, evaders and tricksters of any sort….
    The apple will fall down, winning Lotto is unlikely and the seas will rise…

    Also this shall pass… and with the rate of destruction of credibility at the top of the beehive at present, we may see tidal changes yet in a couple of years…. 😉

    1. I’ve already said this, but I would be in favour of bulldozing all of Christchurch east of and including Cathedral Square.

      It would dislocate about 100,000 people, but the place is stuffed anyway so what’s the point in rebuilding?

      Perhaps we could build a gigantic wind farm in its place.
      it would be good for our clean green image

  2. “Recognizing the importance of climate change, Swiss Re … believe governments must provide leadership by passing legislation to limit CO2 emissions and passing stricter and enforceable zoning and building codes’…”

    Andrew Castaldi, Head, Catastrophe and Perils, Americas Division, Swiss Re America Corporation

    Presenting to;


    JOSEPH I. LIEBERMAN, Connecticut, Chairman
    CARL LEVIN, Michigan SUSAN M. COLLINS, Maine
    MARK L. PRYOR, Arkansas NORM COLEMAN, Minnesota
    MARY L. LANDRIEU, Louisiana TOM COBURN, Oklahoma
    BARACK OBAMA, Illinois PETE V. DOMENICI, New Mexico
    CLAIRE McCASKILL, Missouri JOHN WARNER, Virginia
    JON TESTER, Montana JOHN E. SUNUNU, New Hampshire

    1. When Denial and Reality collide where it hits the pocket (insurance losses, government liabilities) very quickly investors will run to embrace the predictions of science and a realistic world view.
      When the massive losses from avoidable health care problems due to smoking became unbearable – only then – did the lawmakers use legal frameworks to cut through the smokescreen of denial put up by the tobacco industry.
      I think that farmers hurting as their lands dry up, insurers hurting over flood and sea level losses, home owners hurting over loss of insurance cover and property and banks hurting over the loss of mortgaged property will relegate the entire denial position to the dustbin of history and anybody defending denial should simply be asked to put their savings into an insurance fund for coastal developments or shut up!

      1. The latest Club of Rome report 2052 is pessimistic:

        The Report says the main cause of future problems is the excessively short-term predominant political and economic model. “We need a system of governance that takes a more long-term view”, said Professor Randers, speaking in Rotterdam. “It is unlikely that governments will pass necessary regulation to force the markets to allocate more money into climate friendly solutions, and must not assume that markets will work for the benefit of humankind”.

  3. Local and National governments through their inability to react to expert advice, are permitting the inappropriate development of coastal land.
    Looks to me like we are walking into another leaky building scenario.

  4. You can see the problem with Christchurch.Who is going to stand up and say that all that expensive real estate is not worth anything. They all know the problem but the reality is so bad that its better to rebuild.

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