How climate change will affect Wellington

Sea level rise and a change in weather patterns mean our city could look vastly different in the future.

Impacts on Wellington  

Wellington City is exposed to a range of climate-related challenges. The 2019 NIWA report (10MB PDF) on emerging climate change extremes projects that Wellington City can expect to experience:

  • Temperature increase by up to 2.5C by 2090 under business as usual scenarios.
  • Longer dry spells and shorter wet spells – placing increasing pressure on water resources.
  • Increased rainfall during extreme rainfall events – placing more pressure on urban water infrastructure and impacting transport networks. We already see this in our CBD, where basement pumps are beginning to be swamped by the water table.
  • Increases in windy days
  • Sea level rise and storm inundation – threatening low-lying areas of Wellington’s central city. At 1.4m of rise approximately $7 billion in private property, and $1 billion in Council property would be affected in Wellington.
  • Risks to biodiversity due to habitat changes and sea level rise.
  • Establishment of new exotic pests, weeds and diseases because of changes to temperature (air and water) and rainfall patterns.

Some natural hazards are made even worse by climate change effects. For example, sea level rise and more intense weather systems can worsen the impacts of storm surge and increase flooding potential in exposed areas. Intense rainfall can cause greater levels of erosion, meaning slips may become more frequent and cause more damage to the natural environment and our built infrastructure.

The effect of sea level rise

According to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE) report (2.5MB PDF), 30cm of sea level rise is expected to occur in New Zealand over the next 40 years. This will mean that what we now call a 1 in 100 year storm surge event in Wellington, would happen every year. This knowledge will impact the way we adapt and continue to grow our city.

Take a look at what sea level rise could look like at the high tide mark around Wellington in the coming years with the Sea Level Rise and Storm Surge Modelling tool created by Greater Wellington Regional Council. This map helps identify which areas are likely to experience changes first and shows what an extreme sea rise will do to our capital city.

Sea Level Rise Modelling Tool for the Wellington Region - Greater Wellington Regional Council

Meeting these challenges

We have to start planning for a city that will be able to cope with hotter summers, more water and changing coastlines. We are already seeing some of these impacts playing out in Wellington, which is more motivation than ever to look toward a zero carbon future. Council is investing many millions of dollars into seawalls, larger stormwater pipes, and better infrastructure to protect public property. But we know that Wellington’s coastal communities will face some tough choices. 

The Makara Beach Project is the first community-led collaborative process in response to a severe storm event.

The Makara Beach Project

We have a lot of work to do but Wellington is well-placed to meet the challenges ahead. We already have the lowest emissions per capita in Australasia, our compact inner city and engaged and mobile populace mean that we are already at an advantage to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.