Timaru urged to create a trust to tackle climate change together
The impacts of climate change are expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars and could see thousands of climate refugees arriving in South Canterbury, according to a report prepared for the Timaru District Council. The life-changing impacts were outlined in the report by Dr Phil Driver as part of the councils draft Climate Change Strategy. Driver has a background in engineering and water management. Speaking to the Timaru District Councils Environmental Services Committee at its meeting on Tuesday, Driver pulled no punches in delivering his report , and said for some, the impacts were already a reality. The most pressing questions now were how, and when, would the community act? And who would lead that? READ MORE: * A seawall: A short answer but not a longterm fix to coastal erosion * Flood protection short by $150m per year as councils grapple with climate change impact * The Timaru Report: Climate, erosion and tsunamis Many are already suffering. A couple of examples are the Peel Forest flood a couple of months ago one farmer lost $80-grand. One farmer weve spoken to has so far had 40 hectares of his land affected by salt. If you look at dairy land worth $30-grand a hectare, [multiply that by] 40 hectares the sum comes out to $1.2m. Driver, the independent contractor commissioned to develop a strategy to help Timaru tackle the impacts of climate change, introduced his report as being by, for and with the community. He said the impacts would see some do well, while others would be absolutely shattered, and as such one of the key principles in the planning was equity looking at whether the community could support one another through the challenges ahead. Driver, who lived through the Canterbury earthquakes before relocating south, believed the Timaru community was strong, resilient and up to the challenge. Its one of the reasons we shifted here. I was looking all over Canterbury for somewhere to live, and I found the strength of community here was unexpectedly good. Focussing on the Milford Huts settlement as an example of a community at risk, Driver said 60 metres of the coastline alongside the settlement had been lost over 30 years. He said the coastline was continuing to erode at a rate of 2m a year at the moment. The lagoon is shrinking, so its flooding much, much more quickly. Some homes are already being damaged now, out in the huts. Farms are being lost. Driver said it didnt have to be all doom and gloom. An advisory group of 24 had been established, holding workshops which had been attended by hundreds of people, which had provided hundreds of invaluable ideas. Our communities ... are getting very stressed, but theres a potential to convert stress into invigoration. He said it was possible the narrative could be changed from people or communities needing to retreat from one piece of land to a better story of movement to a better situation. Driver said that would require a lot of leadership, and acknowledged the impact mayor Nigel Bowen had in helping some Milford Huts residents see things more clearly at a workshop on managed retreat when there was a lot of reluctance to take action. He said Bowen changed the tone of that meeting with one sentence, telling residents he believed managed retreat had to be on the table. Coming from the mayor, one of the leaders in our community, that really made a difference. Driver said it enabled the group to accept retreat should be considered as an option. He said some residents were saying theyre ready to leave now, while others were saying I want to stay here til the last minute. Some want to leave individually, while others want to leave collectively. Theyre really looking for help and facilitation and guidance to collectively reach a decision as to what is going to work for them. It was not known whether there would be any compensation available, but Driver said it was likely the Government would make some available, but warned probably not very much. He said should that community opt to relocate further upstream together, farming land would have to be rezoned. Just on that issue alone, we are probably looking at tens of millions of dollars of cost. He said while there could be losses, there would also be new opportunities. One possibility was an aquaculture industry created in new wetland areas. Half the American seafood harvest comes from wetlands. He said one of the biggest potential impacts on communities, which many people ignored, was the arrival of climate refugees. Currently in Asia, this is their springtime, theyre experiencing a heatwave of temperatures of 40 degrees ... Because of the high humidity, the effective temperature is 54C. That is completely unliveable. Based on a forecast two billion climate refugees over the next two decades, South Canterbury could receive 20-30,000 arrivals if it welcomed its fair share, he said. That could be managed in a way that makes this place absolutely thrive. Are we going to welcome peasant farmers, who can grow an awful lot of food on a small bit of land with low inputs, or are we going to welcome computer scientists and fashion designers. Driver said he was proud to be working with the council given its approach to date, and said the question now was whether the council would continue its leadership on the issue. He urged the council to consider the establishment of a formal trust or organisation as a next step and reiterated the importance of a proactive approach to tackling issues, despite a lack of legislation requiring action, and the need for good leadership. I'm acknowledging the challenge each of you face to try and get your head around all this stuff, it is huge. The complexity were facing ... weve got erosion problems and sea level rise and bigger storm surges. Weve got bigger waves coming in from offshore storms, and loss of gravel that is no longer coming down the Waitaki River, so those are all compounding. He suggested any such group should be able to pass scrutiny, and should include professionals, a tightly-worded trust deed specifying what the trust would achieve and by when, and should cover the region rather than just the Timaru District. He also urged that group to consider funding streams, including getting district and regional councils to contribute, and going to Central Government which had some major funding on climate change. A lot of what were doing absolutely aligns with the latest report from the Climate Change Commission, so I think we would have their support. While there was no legislative requirement for council to act, Driver said it was up to the council to make that decision. If council doesn't step in and take action on some of these issues, there is a chance that nobody else will either. However, he said there were some urgent matters which could simply not wait. Those included coastal inundation of the settlements, understanding the impacts on the main trunk line, and understanding the lack of domestic food resilience (95% of food consumed in Timaru came from outside the district). Discussing the already present threats to the main trunk line, Driver said they would have a huge impact on the port and transport. He said he would like to know Kiwirail's plans for the line, whether it planned to move it or protect it. Weve been trying to get the answer to that question. He said the railway was acting as a stopbank, which was protecting the Redruth Landfill and neighbouring farms. So, if it was to be moved there would be flow-on impacts on the surrounding land. If the railway line had to be moved, there would be major issues for land rezoning and purchase for relocation, which he said would potentially cost hundreds of millions of dollars. If the line was moved it would also allow coastal erosion to happen a lot faster, he said. If we have a sea level rise of 0.4m, the sea will be lapping Redruth Landfill. Citing Tonkin + Taylors report, on local government infrastructure exposed to sea level rise, which said to expect a 0.8m rise by 2100, Driver said that cost could be massive. Youve got huge expense already removing the landfill down at Peel Forest, that will be a pittance compared to trying to manage the impact of the sea on Redruth. Driver said the region also needed to look at the crops grown, as it would likely get a lot more diseases and pest going through for a lot of our crops, which will become unviable. This would put pressure on the economy, and there were implications for the council, such as possible changes to the District Plan to allow alternative crops to be grown. Driver said a workshop looking at the best crops to grow would be held on July 10. In its risk assessment for the Canterbury area, the Tonkin + Taylor report identified severe weather events storms, extreme rainfall, drought, heatwaves, wildfires and windthrow, he said. Looking at the potential financial impact of climate change on the regions $1.6 billion agriculture industry, the costs quickly stacked up. If that gets a 10% hit from a single climate event, thats a $160m hit in one go. We put that in the context of Cyclone Gabrielle, the cost of that is estimated between $9-11b. The scale of the challenges we are facing is huge, Driver said. Driver said he believed a community trust was required, and volunteered to work with community members to put together a robust proposal of what that should look like and be responsible for by May 12. He said the work done by Timaru had caught the attention of the Climate Change Commission which would visit Timaru next week to learn more about the work done. Speaking about the work done to date, the councils climate change adviser Rhys Taylor said the report would form the next stage of planning. Taylor said there had been a good level of participation from the community and councillors. There may be actions that we can start quickly ... which would be encouraging given the urgency of the national and international issues involved. Responding to concerns about doubling up on work, Taylor said the council was staying in touch with colleagues at Environment Canterbury and others looking at the big picture, but Timaru was moving at a faster pace on the matter. The committee resolved to receive the draft Timaru District Council Climate Change Strategy report, but chose not to endorse it. It also supported a recommendation for a further report and action plan relevant to council activities be presented at the council meeting in July. It also supported a recommendation to support, in principle, preparations to support a trust or similar entity outside council, to take forward aspects of the draft Climate Change Strategy of concern to the community which might not be central to councils statutory functions. Council staff had been asked to report back on that at the July meeting as well.