The Greens have linked the heavy rain in Dunedin on Wednesday to climate change. In Question Time in Parliament yesterday Green co-leader Metiria Turei started with these questions.
1. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Climate Change Issues : Does he agree that local authorities will face greater adaptation costs and find it more expensive to protect infrastructure and property as the climate changes; if not, why not?
A reasonable question – “as the climate changes” is debatable but most science suggests it may get warmer and with more extreme weather events.
Metiria Turei : Does the Minister agree with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change editor Professor Blair Fitzharris that as global warming continues, Dunedin is likely to face more extreme rainfall events, storm surges, and extreme winds, and that low-lying, densely populated areas, coastal communities, and major transport infrastructure, including Dunedin Airport, are particularly at risk?
These are important points that we would expect the Greens to raise.
Metiria Turei : Does the Minister agree with Dunedin City Council’s submission on New Zealand’s climate change target, which says “More effective mitigation could significantly reduce potential future adaptation costs” and that “the Government should consider investing more in climate change mitigation”; if not, why not?
The Dunedin City Council is fairly Green leaning so this is no surprise. But it’s highly questionable whether the Government can do anything that would significantly alter any effects of climate change – New Zealand’s emissions are a very small proportion of global emissions and reducing emissions here by 40% as the Greens want is likely to make a very small difference at best.
Metiria Turei : How does the Minister justify the National Government’s record on climate change, which shows a 13 percent increase in net greenhouse gas emissions, to the people of Dunedin and to the Mayor of Dunedin, Dave Cull, who said today “There may be some areas with sea level rise that we end up retreating from and not putting any more infrastructure in and actually taking the buildings out of. That is the challenge going into the future with climate change.”?
That would be a major for Dunedin, which has large flat areas – reclaimed swamp – that are inhabited. These include South Dunedin, St Kilda and St Clair, plus much of the Taieri Plains. If Dunedin “retreated” from those areas it would more than decimate the city.
Metiria Turei : Is the Minister taking into account increased adaptation costs for local councils when determining New Zealand’s emissions reduction target, given that the Dunedin City Council estimates that engineering options to protect private property and infrastructure in high-risk areas against a 0.3 metre rise in the sea level will cost around $10 million, and that protection against a 1.6 metre rise in the sea level will cost around $150 million?
If these “increased adaptation costs” prove to be necessary it is going to be regardless of what New Zealand does with emissions. We have a minute effect on world climate systems.
Metiria Turei : By not taking urgent leadership on climate change, has his Government not abandoned the Dunedin City Council and the people of Dunedin to pick up the cost of more extreme rainfall events like yesterday, when the city was swamped in 24 hours by 2 months’ worth of rain, causing flooding, electricity outages, sewerage overflows, the evacuation of rest homes and schools, the Otago Peninsula being cut off, and which left the side of State Highway 1 “looking like a canal”?
Now Turei is trying to emotionally use a single weather event to criticise the Government and promote Green policy on climate change.
Yes, parts of the city were swamped – large parts of the city used to be swamp and have always been at risk of heavy rain accumulation.
“24 hours by 2 months’ worth of rain” is overstating things. On Wednesday there was 150-170 mm of rain. While it’s common for Dunedin to get 40-80 mm of rain in a month it’s not uncommon to get much more. For example:
- April 2014 – 144.8 mm
- June 2013 – 195.2 mm
- May 2013 – 141.8 mm
So only two years ago there was 337 mm in two months.
- May 2010 – 207 mm
- June 2009 – 158.4 mm
- May 2009 – 163 mm
- June 2002 – 137.4 mm
- May 2002 – 205.4 mm
So it’s quite common to get heavy rainfall at this time of year. In a single month there was more rain than there was on Wednesday.
2002 was a much wetter year than this year has been so far.
Source: University of Otago Weather Station
So while this week there was an abnormal amount of rain in a day the total over a month. Including this week’s downpour Metservice shows that rainfall in Dunedin over the last 31 days is just over 200 mm, that’s much higher than usual but not uncommon.
Turei’s last question:
Metiria Turei : Is the Minister not confirming by his dismissive attitude towards the science of climate change that someone is paying the cost of his doing nothing on this issue, and that this week that just happens to be the people of Dunedin?
The present and past Governments haven’t done nothing. They have done far less than the Greens want them to do. But the reality is that even if we eliminated all our emissions, wiped out all emitting animals from the country and reforested the whole country it is likely to have a negligible effect on the world climate.
New Zealand reducing emissions is necessary but in the whole scheme of things it would be little more than a token change, and not weather changing.
As part of the international community New Zealand needs to do something, and should do more than at present.
But Greens have a major problem – if they overstate weather events, if they link single local weather events to world wide climate and if they try to shame other parties into adopting their climate targets then they are likely to find it difficult to get co-operation.
Their over the top claims are more likely to repel rather than attract support for their ideals. Like this One News report:
Climate change and Government’s ‘inaction’ to blame for Dunedin’s 100-year-flood, say Greens
One News have chosen that headline on a rolling blog on the rain in Dunedin that covers many topics.
The Dunedin flood is a result of climate change and the Government’s “inaction” on the issue, the Green Party says.
“The flooding in Dunedin highlights that the National Government needs to stop being the problem and start being part of the solution on climate change,” Green Party local government spokesperson Eugenie Sage said.
“Since National came to power in 2008, New Zealand’s net emissions have increased by 13 percent; the scientific consensus is that increasing emissions will cause more extreme weather events.”
Ms Sage said the Government should aim for an emission target reduction of 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.”Last month it was Wellington. Yesterday it was Dunedin. What region will suffer next from a lack of strong, cross-party leadership on the climate?”
“Strong, cross-party leadership on the climate” – Green-speak for ‘do what we want’ – would have had no effect on flooding in different parts of the country.
At a recent climate change consultatin meeting in Dunedin two Dunedin councillors spoke:
Dunedin City councillor Aaron Hawkins also stood up to speak, his voice cracking.
”I want to acknowledge the anger that’s felt by my generation and people younger … that the question of even having children is such a moral and ethical dilemma.”
Hawkins is not speaking for “my generation and people younger”, he’s speaking for himself and like-minded Greens, a minority.
Cr Jinty MacTavish said the target of a 40% emissions reduction by 2030 many people in the room were calling for – and which was criticised as being inadequate by Prof Bob Lloyd earlier in the night – was a ”compromise”.
So claims for a 40% reduction are seen as a minimum by some.
And their claims are not universally supported. The ODT reports:
Don’t blame climate change for city deluge, weather experts say
The flooding in Dunedin on Wednesday was not caused by climate change, a University of Otago climatologist says.
”I think this is just a weather event,” Dr Nicolas Cullen, of the department of geography, said.
The Green Party and Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull have been quick to link the downpour to climate change.
Dr Cullen cited a 1929 downpour of 220mm within 24 hours, and estimated Wednesday was a one-in-30-year event.
”This particular event is more related just to the weather patterns that developed over the period which allowed that frontal system to really hit Dunedin quite hard.”
”You tell me. It’s wrong,” Dr Cullen said when asked why it was called a 100-year event by the Dunedin City Council.
”I wouldn’t put this in the climate change basket too quickly.”
If the same rainfall happened every month for a year ”then we can start talking about climate change”.
The flood did, however, demonstrate the city’s potential vulnerability to sea level rise, he said.
So a climatologist disputes the claims of the Dunedin City Council politicians and the Green party.
Dunedin hydrologist Dave Stewart said his initial estimate of Wednesday’s flood was a one in 30-to-50 year event.
He had not had time to analyse the data, but rainfall at various sites ranged from 140mm to 180mm.
Mr Stewart was scathing about the DCC’s 100-year claim, saying he did not know how it arrived at the estimate.
He also dismissed the idea the event was linked with climate change.
And a hydrologist disputes the claims of the Dunedin City Council politicians and the Green party.
This highlights a major problem with climate change – exaggerations and unsupportable claims don’t help the Green case of action on reducing emissions. They make it easier to dismiss them as a bunch of extremist nutters.