Climate change puts numerous Catholic schools at risk

Ninety-four New Zealand schools –  including at least 11 Catholic schools – are at risk of flooding.

Niwa says sea level changes could create flooding around school buildings and roads. Then it would be difficult for children to get to and from their classrooms.

Infrastructure would be affected. Seawater in pipes would cause school toilets and sinks to back up.

Niwa says despite warnings of likely disruption, the Ministry of Education has few adaptation plans in place.

If a big storm hit today,  Niwa reports that 31 schools would be at risk of flooding, with no sea-level rise factored into their plans.

When the ocean is 50cm higher (a mark we’ll reach in the next 45 to 90 years), 65 schools could be affected. That will become 94  of our 2,500 schools when sea levels rise a metre.

The Ministry of Education requires schools to develop a 10-Year Property Plan. These help schools upgrade and maintain buildings and grounds – but there is little mention of sea-level rise or climate change.

When choosing the location of a new school, the ministry must look at the site’s history of flooding, but there’s currently no specific requirement to future-proof decisions by assessing the impacts of climate change. However, the Ministry says these requirements will be updated by the middle of the year.

Under the Zero Carbon Act, the Government must prepare the country for the expected effects of climate change, such as sea-level rise. By August next year, it must have a national adaptation plan in place.

Niwa’s modelling “will provide valuable and additional insight to our property planning, monitoring of at-risk properties, and, equally, our due diligence when acquiring new land,” a Ministry of Education spokesperson says.

Niwa’s model used up to 1m of sea-level rise, but it’s unclear when the world will reach that milestone.

To remove this uncertainty, the Government has decided plans should allow for up to 1m of sea-level rise by 2120.

Rising sea levels make extreme flooding events more likely, and increases the frequency of smaller, nuisance flooding, said Niwa hazards researcher Ryan Paulik​. He identified the number of at-risk schools using his coastal inundation model.

Once the seas are 1m higher, the extreme flooding that now hits every 100 years will occur as often as once a day, he added.
Next steps: Schools and communities should start planning for these changes as soon as possible, a Unitec researcher says.

“Otherwise it just becomes a contingent thing done at the last minute… When it’s flooded, we better move it.”

Catholic schools likely to be flooded

If the sea were to rise between 1 and 50cms:

  •  St Mary’s Catholic School (Tauranga), Sacred Heart School (Petone), New Brighton Catholic School (Christchurch), St Joseph’s School (Kaikoura), St Patrick’s School (Kaiapoi), St Peter Chanel School (Motueka), and St Joseph’s School (Invercargill) would be flooded, says the Niwa report.

A sea-level rise of 51 to 100cm would flood:

  • St Anne’s School (Woolston), St Patrick’s School (Napier), Our Lady of the Rosary School (Waiwhetu) and St Patrick’s School (Kilbirnie).

Evan’s Bay Intermediate, a state school in Wellington, is also listed as at risk. It shares a common boundary with St Patrick’s College Wellington, that is not listed!


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