By Andrew Starc

1 June 2010 – The adaptability of Queensland in the face of climate change and increased population growth was the focus of a session hosted by CSIRO experts on day one of the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility Conference on this Gold Coast this week.

Nick Abel, Russell Gorddard and Ben Harman said up to 9000 homes could be affected by more frequent and more intense storms and sea level rises of up to a metre or more by 2100.

Houses most under threat are those located within 110 metres of erodible shore in South East Queensland.

Adapting to such conditions will depend on precluding or removing development from low lying land to provide space for the future spread of dunes, beaches and wetland vegetation as the sea rises, the panel said.

The panel said an “array of problems” would make it difficult to implement the Queensland Coastal Plan, and draft SEQ Climate Change Management Plan.

Some of these problems include that different sections of the Queensland coast are at different stages of development, with the less urbanised areas having more intact coastal ecosystems, therefore more options and greater adaptability, but with a trend towards declining options and adaptability as incremental development proceeds.

The session outlined that the fear of not tackling these problems was that as the number of people living in vulnerable places increases, and the value of property there grows, so governments will be increasingly likely to succumb to political pressure and build defences against storm surges regardless of the net public benefit of doing so.

“If land is not set aside for colonisation by coastal ecosystems in anticipation of sea level rise, therefore, built defences will become the dominant strategy,” says the panel said.

Measures proposed to deal with this include:

1. Allow for irreducible uncertainties including rates and amounts of sea level rise, storm intensity, erosion rates and population changes such as property rights, development approvals. Zoning could be linked to pre-specified sea level heights

2. Redistribute the benefits, costs, risks and uncertainties of coastal development, residence and governance. Measures that place the risks on the property owner or developer would clarify uncertainties about the responsibilities of local and State governments and reduce the attractiveness of lower lying land

3. Be developed in consultation with the banking and insurance industries. Banks will be reluctant to provide mortgages for properties that will be at risk during the repayment period. High insurance costs or refusal of cover would be a significant disincentive for coastal development, not least because banks would become less willing to provide mortgages for properties at risk

4. Operate as negative feedbacks, so that the closer the system approaches an unwanted threshold, the stronger the feedback becomes for example, zoning that changes with sea level.

See the conference website for full details