Box 114 Climate change adaptation in coastal areas

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Australia and New Zealand have very long coastlines with ongoing development and large and rapidly growing populations in the coastal zone. This situation is placing intense pressure on land and water resources and is increasing vulnerability to climatic variations, including storm surges, droughts and floods. A major challenge facing both countries is how to adapt to changes in climate, reduce vulnerability, and yet achieve sustainable development. Two examples illustrate this challenge.

Bay of Plenty, North Island, New Zealand. This bay is characterised by a narrow coastal zone with two of the fastest-growing districts of New Zealand. Combined population growth was 13.4% over the period 1996 to 2001, centred on the cities of Tauranga and Whakatane. By 2050, the population is projected to increase 2 to 3 times. Beachfront locations demand the highest premiums on the property market, but face the highest risks from storm surge flooding and erosion. Substantial efforts have been made to reduce the risks. For the purpose of delineation of hazard zones and design of adaptation measures, the Environment Bay of Plenty regional council explicitly included IPCC projections of sea-level rise in its Regional Coastal Environment Plan. This identified 'areas sensitive to coastal hazards within the next 100 years'. Implementation of such policy and plans by local government authorities has been repeatedly challenged by property developers, commercial interests and individual homeowners with different interpretations of the risks.

Sunshine Coast and Wide Bay-Burnett, Queensland, Australia. Between 2001 and 2021, the Sunshine Coast population is projected to grow from 277,987 to 479,806 (QDLGP, 2003), and the Wide Bay-Burnett population is projected to grow from 236,500 to 333,900 (ABS, 2003b). Sandy beaches and dunes are key biophysical characteristics of this coastline, including Fraser Island which is the largest sand island in the world. These natural features and the human populations they attract are vulnerable to sea-level rise, flooding, storm surges and tropical cyclones. Many estuaries and adjacent lowlands have been intensively developed, some as high-value canal estates. Local government is clearly becoming aware of climate-change risks. This topic is included in the agenda of the Sea-Change Taskforce, made up of coastal councils throughout Australia. At the regional planning level, climate change was recently embedded at a policy level into the strategic planning processes for the Wide Bay-Burnett region.

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