Rising sea levels will swallow Wellington suburb, research shows

New research shows rising sea levels will swallow an entire Wellington suburb by the end of the century. 

It may sound outrageous, but the insurance industry is already taking notice of coastal towns like Petone, according to Climate Stigma managing director Belinda Storey. 

"There is certainly certainty around what's going to happen within the next 20 years," she told The Project on Wednesday. "We know there is going to be about 10cm of sea level rise in the next 20 years - that's a given.

"There are already locations in New Zealand that are unable to get insurance and some people don't know that until they go to sell their house and then they find that anyone who wants to buy their property isn't able to get insurance."

A recent report on carbon warns that all property in the Wellington suburb of Petone will be completely uninsurable by 2050. Buy a home there today, and by the time your 30 year mortgage is all paid up, your quarter-acre dream will be an underwater nightmare. 

There are plans for sea walls, drainage systems and even relocating entire communities in Petone, much like Christchurch did after the 2011 earthquakes. 

Miami's dealing with this too. The Florida city has already lifted up tens of city blocks and installed dozens of flood management pumping systems. Petone could do that, if it can cover the cost like Miami - which is in the hundreds of millions of dollars. 

But even then, there are still no guarantees. 

"My greatest worry is the next time we have a major hurricane, people will say, "I'm outta here'," says Robert Meyer of the Wharton School of Business. 

"Suddenly you have this immense collapse - billions and trillions of dollars of real estate is suddenly at risk of becoming valueless."

Ms Storey says the changes in property values will "happen fairly slowly to begin with".

"It's not until you get really close to the end of the time that you're able to safely live there that you have the drop in property prices."

Even if some people know there's a time limit on their property, they would rather stay because they love where they are, she says. But others will see their property as an investment and view the report's findings as a risk. 

"There are some places that will experience it sooner than others but all places around New Zealand are likely to experience more storms," says Ms Storey. 

An interactive map published earlier this year shows which parts of New Zealand will be hit the hardest by climate change. The most affected areas will be north of Whangarei, from Coromandel through the Bay of Plenty to the East Cape, the central North Island and Wairarapa.

Climate scientist Dr Jim Salinger said in February that New Zealand will have to abandon some coastal areas when the weather gets uncontrollable.