Coastal Communities Face Complex Range Of Issues

Coastal councils from around Australia are attending the Australian Coastal Councils Conference at Byron Bay today and tomorrow to consider the major challenges facing the nation’s regional coastal communities.

Barry Sammels, the Chair of the National Sea Change Taskforce, which has organised the conference, told delegates that coastal communities are facing a most difficult and complex range of issues.

“This is a critical time for people living in coastal communities and for the people responsible for planning and managing the coastal zone,” Mr Sammels said. “They face an enormous challenge to prepare for the impacts of climate change, but they are also attempting to deal with unprecedented population growth and development pressures.

“Apart from lacking the resources to meet continuing growth in demand for infrastructure and services, coastal councils are also at the forefront of having to meet the needs of ageing populations.”

Ms Sammels said while climate change is a matter of conjecture for many people, for coastal councils it is a matter of reality they have to deal with every day.

“Coastal councils need to carefully consider the potential impact of rising sea levels and more frequent and severe extreme weather events every time they consider an application for development in potentially vulnerable coastal areas,” he said. “They also need to consider the legal implications. There is a growing body of common law which indicates the courts will have a direct and powerful influence over how these developments are assessed in the future.”

The conference is being attended by members of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, the Environment and the Arts, including the Committee Chair, Jennie George MP and Deputy Chair, Mal Washer MP. Three members of the Coast and Climate Change Council appointed by Climate Change Minister, Senator Penny Wong, are also attending the event to discuss the Climate Change Risks to Australia’s Coasts report, which has identified areas at particular risk of sea level rise and other climate change impacts.

Barry Sammels said analysis of the revised population estimates released by Treasury in the third Intergenerational Report last month indicated that coastal communities were likely to severely affected by population growth over the next 40 years.

“The combined effects of rapid population growth and the retirement of the ‘baby boomers’ will expand the current population regional coastal areas from 6.4 million to 13.2 million by 2050 – an increase of 106%,” he said.