Bill English cold-shoulders commissioner about 1cm-a-year sea level threat


Environment Commissioner Jan Wright’s long-running quest to get Finance Minister Bill English to set up a working group on rising sea levels appears to be getting nowhere.

So far he has apparently not even replied to any of her proposals for a meeting to discuss her request.

Last November he described her warnings on rising sea levels as “speculative” and said there were still many uncertainties about the potential impacts of rising oceans.

But Dr Wright is getting some support for her request that the Government take the issue seriously.

She told the Finance and Expenditure Select Committee yesterday that she had had supportive talks with the Bank of New Zealand the Insurance Council of New Zealand.

Dr Wright argues the sea could rise 30cm in some parts of New Zealand within the next 50 years and then go up another 20cm during storm surges.

This could affect 9000 houses worth $3 billion.

“Calls for compensation will be inevitable,” she told the Committee.

In April she proposed that the Minister of Finance set up a working group to consider the implications of sea level rise.

“It’s too soon to include the fiscal risks of sea level rise,” she said.

“But it is not too soon to consider these risks when making planning and investment decisions.

“Banks and insurers are keen to engage in such a working group.”

But she told Labour’s Grant Robertson that she had no response to her proposal from the Minister.

Later she told journalists that she would have appreciated the opportunity to talk to him.

There are some very simple solutions to this. Insurers should set a 20-year sunset clause on any sea-level-rise-related coverage. And people have that much time to ensure they purchase homes that won’t be affected.

Everyone is talking as if we’ll wake up one morning and the streets are suddenly under water. The sea hasn’t risen 30cm in several centuries, so it is unlikely there will be any urgent need to react now. Bill English is a finance minister, and his tenure will end before the sea will even rise a few millimeters.

The job is up to the banks, Insurance Council and local government to sort out. By all means, plan for it, and make aggressive estimates that err on the side of extreme sea level rises. To try and involve the government of the day’s finance minister, however, is nothing but politics.


– Richard Harman, Politik

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