Recently, NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration), the chief climate monitoring agency of the US government, released the latest data on global temperatures (through May 2010).

Some highlights:

  • May of 2010 was the warmest global average for that month on record;
  • Each of the months of March, April and May 2010 were the warmest on record; and,
  • The year-to-date (Jan-May) temperature is the warmest first five months on record.

So when should we — I mean us, right here in Hawke’s Bay — actually start worrying about the impacts of global warming? And what should we worry about more … dealing with the inevitable impacts here in our region, or taking steps to reduce our own contribution to the problem?

The latest regional planning exercise to take note of global warming is the Heretaunga Plains Urban Development Strategy (HPUDS) project. It says: “The full effects of climate change will not be felt within the existing timeframe and planning horizon of the overall HPUDS. The long term effects (on a 50 to 100 year time frame) will nevertheless be potentially significant and have a bearing on all land use planning decisions made in the present day.”

Despite saying “It’s not really our job,” the HPUDS study does discuss some regional implications of global warming:

Coastal erosion — “The at-risk areas for coastal erosion are typically within about a 75 metre band, measured landward of mean high water springs. Climate change is expected to have an effect on coastal erosion trends as a result of rising sea level and increased frequency and intensity of coastal storms. This may cause a ‘roll back’ of the beach crest — with the position of the shoreline, including the beach crest, adjusting to a new equilibrium point further inland but higher in elevation.” [Should we save Westshore or Haumoana? Both? Neither?]

Drainage — “Rising sea level will mean an increasing likelihood of saltwater intrusion and salination of shallow groundwater in areas that are pump drained. The extent and degree of pump drainage required, especially in Napier, will increase over time as sea level rises.” [75% of Napier’s urban stormwater is pumped out now, with consequent energy use and infrastructure investment.]

Drought — “An increasing frequency of drought can be expected in the whole of the East Coast, including Hawke’s Bay.” [Has any BayBuzz reader seen a serious analysis of the impact of drought on HB’s primary production future? I’ll bet not.]

Flooding — “In respect to flood risk, global warming is expected to result in an increased frequency and severity of major storms … Without substantial improvements being made to existing flood protection works, the community living on the flood plain will, over time, have to accept an increasing level of risk as the risk of flooding will be further exacerbated by sea level rise … Urban development will need to take seriously the potential for increased flooding and ensure that sites are chosen where the risk of flooding is relatively low, or can be effectively managed.”

These are pretty big issues. And they all have implications for decisions being taken by our councils right now.

But hey, they appear far off in the future … well beyond the political life (and therefore concern) of most current local officeholders. So maybe they (and we) just shouldn’t worry about them.

After all, it seems like it’s not even within the capacity of our councils to deal with current issues like footpath maintenance, routine stormwater discharges, swimming pool maintenance, wood burner pollution, and smelly sewage treatment.

God forbid the challenges get even bigger and Mother Nature is in charge … with no Minister in Wellington to appeal to for an extension of deadlines, or no “mediation” process for councils to work out deals on non-complying consents.

Perhaps we’re better off if our current councillors do not meddle in the global warming issue. After all, their generation didn’t sign up for the global warming portfolio. Think of the damage they might cause! They’re more suited to road-building, grandstand construction, sidewalk signs, carparks and dog control.

Let’s leave the big issues for HPUDS-II — 2046 to 2075. No, I’m tired of being a “sky is falling” kind of guy … we have time … let’s push them back to HPUDS-III!

Tom Belford

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3 Comments

  1. Tom, it is really good to read your articles. While at the NCC, I organized the first public meeting on climate change in 2003. Very few people turned up and those that did, weren’t that convinced about it then.

    I am working in Kosovo for an NGO, and the people here are telling me that it is cold for this time of year. Last summer the temps were around the mid thirties daily. We get that some days, with most days around the mid twenties. The last two weeks of June were down to single figure temperatures. According to the locals, coolest summer for awhile.

    The science of global warming can be used to suite any argument.

    Just like they say, statistics, statistics and dam lies.

    Garry Mabey

  2. We should have started worrying more a long time ago.

    The 2005 IPCC climate change report was based on climate data only upto 2002. The data delay is due to the need to have the data and analysis peer reviewed before it is officially published by the IPCC.

    The climate change report /input to the HUDS process was merely a review of the 2005 report, with no additional comment on the data and consequential additional risks since then. This was a serious omission from the HUDS process.

    The temperature data since 2002 has consistently shown a contining pattern of higher temperatures with greater extremes of storm events, more droughts for Hawkes Bay, and higher than previously forecast ocean levels. The risks of much higher sea level rises are especially important for Napier and other coastal settlements.

    Official planners however continue to base their analysis and planning recommendations on the outdated data and analysis from the 2005 IPCC report.

    This latest data from NOAA confirms several other data releases since the 2005 report, but because they have not yet been through the official IPCC process they are not used. In the meantime we just pretend the new information does not exist.

    This needs alot more attention than it has been given to date.

  3. Personally I started worrying in about 1970. I spent much of the following 20 years trying to convince others to worry too, and (mostly) got laughed at for my trouble. Now that the majority (arguably) are finally starting to worry, I've given up … because, frankly, it's far too late. Case closed.

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