Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Scrapping sea level protection puts Australian homes at risk

Barbara Norman in the Conversation (Australia): As the science on the coastal impacts of climate change gets stronger, the protections for Australia’s coastal communities are getting weaker. If that continues, everyone will pay. Along the eastern seaboard of Australia, where most of us live, state governments are relaxing their policies and largely leaving it to local councils to decide if homes can be built in low-lying areas.

The Queensland government confirmed this week that sea level rise will be removed from its State Planning Policy, just as it was in New South Wales a year ago, while Victoria has also relaxed its sea level rules.

Yet nearly 39,000 homes are already located within 110 metres of soft, erodible shorelines, according to the Australian Department of Environment, which states exposure to the effects of sea level rise “will increase as Australia’s population grows”. With 85% of Australians living in coastal areas, and billions of dollars of buildings and roads at stake, if we don’t get coastal planning right we risk facing huge human and economic costs.

The Local Government Association of Queensland has warned that councils could be sent broke by the state policy change, particularly because of the legal liability they could face if they approve coastal developments that are subsequently hit by future storm damage or flooding.

And as we saw with the devastating Queensland floods of 2011 and other major disasters, when individual homeowners were not insured and needed help, or when individual councils can’t afford to fix damaged roads and infrastructure, who ends up footing much of the repair bill? All Australian taxpayers.

So this is not just a problem for the lucky few with homes by the beach: we all have something at stake in getting coastal protections right....

Coastal erosion at Cottesloe beach, caused by storms in 2009 (when this photo was taken), shot by Gnangarra, Wikimedia Commons, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia License

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