Councils should continue to assume that climate change is real and its impacts will become more pronounced with time, according to a review by independent consultants of the latest science on sea level, legal opinions and NSW Government advice.

The review was undertaken by the specialist coastal consultants Whitehead & Associates and Coastal Environment, who were jointly engaged by Shoalhaven City Council and Eurobodalla Shire Council.

The study was commissioned after the NSW Government withdrew the state’s sea level rise policy in 2012. Councils were advised to consider allowances for future sea level rise based on local conditions. The State government required councils to use the allowances for local land use planning, infrastructure and development decisions.

Based on a benchmark year of 2015 the review recommended a local sea level rise projection of 0.26m by the year 2050, which is slightly lower than 0.35m, which was projected in the previous state policy. On the other hand, the review recommended a sea level rise projection of 0.98m by 2100, which is higher than the 0.85m required in the previous policy.

Key legal and planning findings of the review include the following:

  • Sea level rise has been recognized and planned for in NSW for 25 years.
  • Councils should continue to continue to plan for sea level rise.
  • Councils should care for the wellbeing of both present and future generations.
  • Councils should take a cautious approach when there is uncertainty.
  • Councils should prepare a management strategy aimed at reducing the risks associated with sea level rise.

The previous NSW Minister for Environment advised councils to ‘consider adopting projections that are widely accepted by competent scientific opinion”. In applying this advice, the key scientific findings of the review include:

  • There is no compelling reason to not adopt the projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as the most widely accepted and competent information presently available.
  • Recent sea level rise trends offshore of NSW are similar to the global average.
  • Recent changes in sea level have been very similar between Sydney and the Shoalhaven and Eurobodalla Coasts.
  • Future sea level rise will likely be similar to the global average, with only minor variation.

Eurobodalla Shire Council has written to all coastal councils in NSW encouraging them to consider the report with a view to ultimately calling for a State policy position to ensure a consistent approach to sea level rise planning decisions across New South Wales.