Sea-Level Rise and Local Government: Policy Gaps and Opportunities

40 Pages Posted: 4 Sep 2020 Last revised: 9 Sep 2020

See all articles by Catherine J. Iorns Magallanes

Catherine J. Iorns Magallanes

Victoria University of Wellington - Faculty of Law

Vanessa James


Patrick Gerard


Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: July 1, 2019


This paper identifies some barriers, gaps and opportunities in the legal and policy options available to local government when managing the effects of sea-level rise due to climate change, and outlines the challenges facing local government in adapting to sea-level rise and climate change.

Work undertaken to inform the paper includes research, engagement, and policy analysis undertaken over a two-year period, with findings tested in a survey of local authorities with coastal interface (territorial authorities) or whose authority included coastal marine area (regional and unitary councils). The range of opinions expressed through the survey process demonstrate that every region and district has its own unique characteristics and priorities.

The most prominent message from our work is the desire for more commitment and involvement from central government. While local authorities are very well engaged and generally have a clear idea of issues arising from sea-level rise and climate change, 73 percent of participants said their organisations do not receive enough direction from central government on how to respond to the effects of climate change. It is acknowledged that useful guidance has been provided, such as the Ministry for the Environment’s Guidance for local government on preparing for climate change. However, territorial authorities in particular are seeking a stronger lead, such as legislative reform, clearer and more directive policy, clarification of responsibilities, guidance on the use of particular adaptation tools that currently exist, and a national environmental standard on coastal hazard management. Such direction is seen as critical not only to achieve a nationally consistent approach but also simply to achieve adoption of appropriate climate adaptation measures.

Keywords: 'climate adaptation', sea-level rise, 'local government', ministry for the environment

JEL Classification: K32

Suggested Citation

Iorns, Catherine and James, Vanessa and Gerard, Patrick, Sea-Level Rise and Local Government: Policy Gaps and Opportunities (July 1, 2019). Victoria University of Wellington Legal Research Paper No. 67/2020, Available at SSRN: or

Catherine Iorns (Contact Author)

Victoria University of Wellington - Faculty of Law ( email )

PO Box 600
Wellington, 6140
New Zealand

Vanessa James


Patrick Gerard


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