A Government Minister has finally admitted that New Zealand faces a direct economic threat from rising sea levels.

Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett told Parliament yesterday that she did not believe Councils were giving homeowners enough information about rising sea levels, particularly in the Hawke’s Bay, south Wellington and Dunedin.

Her comments follow an appearance a fortnight ago by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright, at a select Committee in which she outlined her difficulties persuading Government Ministers and Treasury to set up a working group to look at the fiscal and economic impact of rising sea levels.

Ms Bennett referred to a wide range of consultations she is currently undertaking related to the Paris 2015 greenhouse gas emission targets.

She did not specifically link any work on sea levels to those discussions.

Green MP Eugenie Sage asked Ms Bennett if  she agreed with  GNS Senior Scientist Nancy Bertler that a sea-level rise of 30cm in 30 years was “incredibly certain”, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s analysis that a 30cm rise would result in 1 in 100-year high water levels in Wellington happening every year

Ms Bennett: “In part, yes, but I would point out that even the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment and the scientist mentioned in the question disagree.

Ms Sage: “Would she discourage a first-home buyer from taking out a 30-year mortgage today on a home in a low-lying coastal area, given the risks facing such properties over the next 30 years?

Ms Bennett: It would depend on where it is, what mitigation happens over the next 30 years, and what adaptation local councils are taking responsibility for.

And asked by ACT Leader David Seymour if she believed that managing risk from sea level rise was the responsibility of central government, local government, or property owners, she said “In some contexts, all of the above.”

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