Climate change poll: People less tolerant about building in areas affected by climate change

By Hamish Cardwell RNZ

New climate change polling shows people are becoming less tolerant of those who build in harm's way, with the overwhelming majority expecting extreme flooding to increase.

The survey, now in its fifth year, found 91 percent of people expected to see more frequent and extreme flooding events.

It seemed people were less certain about the role they could personally play in responding to climate change.

At the same time there had been a large shift towards people wanting the government in the driver's seat.

Read the full report here

Tide turning against those in the danger zone

The survey for a major insurer found the majority - 53 percent - of people thought homeowners should not have the right to live in places badly affected by climate change.

That was a 15 percentage point increase on last year, and came as the country has seen a number of of extreme flooding and weather events in recent years.

There was also a 10 percentage point growth over four years in the number of those who wanted councils to zone land to reduce and avoid the impact of climate change (now 74 percent) and consent developments that did the same (now 69 percent).

Only a third believed the country was doing enough about climate change, and there was a major shift in the number of people looking to the government for direction.

Those who thought the government held the most responsibility nearly doubled - from 25 percent five years ago to 48 percent in 2022.

In the past three years consistently about three quarters of people said they wanted authorities to build infrastructure to reduce the impact of climate change.

People appear less certain about individual action

But the numbers showed people seemed less certain about what they as individuals could do about climate change.

Seventy eight percent of people agreed climate change was important to them personally, but in the past year the number prepared to act to reduce the impacts on them dropped from 69 to 64 percent.

There had also been a steady decline in the number of people already taking steps to reduce climate impacts, dropping 9 percentage points in two years to only 50 percent.

It came with a 9 percentage point drop in the number of people who knew what they need to do to help reduce the impacts of climate change - to 49 percent.

The survey by Ipsos for the insurer IAG - which has brands like NZI, State and AMI - spoke to more than 1000 people in late April and early May.

That was right at the time the government released its draft plans for dealing with the effects of climate change such as flooding, sea-level rise, wildfire, droughts - as well as who would pay for it.

These included discussions about managed retreat - essentially abandoning places where it no longer makes sense to live.

It was also when shocking new data came out showing the sea level is rising twice as fast as previously thought in some parts of Aotearoa, making once-in-a century floods likely in some places every year in just 18 years.

It raises the possibility that the polling is indicating that as the government steps into the leading role on the issue it makes citizens less certain about their individual efforts.

Another plausible factor could be the pandemic has reduced peoples' capacity to act on another major issue and stressor like climate change.

The new sea level rise data could also be a factor in the sentiment against being able to live in badly affected places.

Victoria University climate scientist Professor James Renwick said there was "a lot of confusion, and a need for education and clear messages about actions we can all take".

Insurance alone not the answer, industry warns

In May RNZ reported an expert in climate change risk who said those living in areas susceptible to storm damage from sea level rise could lose their insurance cover in just a few years - far sooner than many owners realised.

The industry said there was no defined trigger point for when insurance was withdrawn.

NZI, State and AMI chief executive Amanda Whiting said it was committed to keeping New Zealanders insured.

"However, it's clear that insurance alone is not the answer. As a country we need to reduce the risks to properties and lives resulting from climate change.

"The most important thing we can do is ensure people are safe from the impacts of natural disasters."

She said for the industry that meant working with central and local government to ensure there was greater flood prevention measures and other solutions to protect people or get them out of harm's way.

The government has repeatedly warned property owners and councils they must shoulder some of the costs.

Local government has made similar statements, with part of the National Adaptation Plan an opportunity to hash this out.

Minister of Climate Change James Shaw said a rough estimate of about $145 billion of private and public assets and infrastructure were at risk from climate change in Aotearoa.