2008 Overview

18-22 August 2008

Coast to Coast Collaboration: Crossing Boundaries

Venue: Convention Centre, Darwin

Participants: NRM stakeholders and scientists from across Australia and overseas.

Focus: Coastal scientific advances, NRM case studies and climate change adaptation.

Keynote Speakers

Jennie George MP – Chair, House of Representatives Standing Committee on Environment, Heritage and the Arts said that public presentations would be conducted to the Committee’s Inquiry into the Impacts of Climate Change on the Coast running beside the Coast to Coast Conference.

• The Australian Government is faced with hard decisions in compressed timeframes especially with climate change and building resilient ecosystems that can withstand shocks and rapid changes and then bounce back.

• The Australian Government is funding a high resolution model of the Australian coast and an interactive web-based tool to help planners and engineers to take into account sea level rise, ocean wave heights and storm surge.

• Darwin Harbour is one of the 12 national coastal hotspots under Caring for Our Country Community Coastcare. There were over 700 applications received for the first $20m round of this program.

• The Australian Government is spending $2.7m to conserve Indigenous ecological knowledge to inform natural resource management.

Prof Will Steffen(ANU), Climate Change Institute, said that sea level rise is accelerating with about two thirds deriving from expansion of the ocean and most of the remainder from runoff from glaciers.

• In Greenland, melting water on land-based ice sheets is scything down to the interface between with the land and this is lubricating and accelerating the rate that ice sheets are sliding into the ocean and icebergs calving off and melting.

• We may have to become a carbon absorbing society rather than just carbon neutral because of prevailing overshoot on targets.

• We could undertake enormous environmental, social and economic changes in our society in the next few decades and we will not see any difference in climate change patterns. The effects will only become apparent in the second part of the century – this is a major political challenge for current generations.

• With 2 degrees change in climate by 2100 most scientists believe that generations could adapt although there will be large biodiversity losses and coral reefs will disappear. Our current trajectory is 5 degrees.

Jo Mummery (Department of Climate Change), Head of the Adaptation and Science Branch, said that the coastal zone is a point of concentration of many of the extremes of climate change impacts and this is where many of our population and social, economic and environmental assets are located. Few of the potential beneficial effects of climate change are located on the coast.

• A ‘first pass’ assessment will assist in pin-pointing areas of the coast that require specific approaches to adaptation and this will be available at the end of 2008.

• The Smartline tool highlights coastal areas vulnerable to shoreline recession and inundation. Buildings and infrastructure at risk at various levels of inundation can be quantified as can the replacement cost.

• Biodiversity vulnerability assessment is being supported by consistent national mapping of coastal ecosystems with a set of indicators to show the most vulnerable species and ecosystems and the location of hot spots.

Dr Ian Poiner, CEO, Australian Institute of Marine Science, said that the Great Barrier Reef contributes more than $5Bn annually to the Australian economy.

House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts - Inquiry into climate change and environmental impacts on Australian coastal communities.Public hearing held concurrently with Coast to Coast conference.

Dr Gary Cook (CSIRO), said the seas at Darwin are about the warmest on the planet but also the troposphere is one of the coldest creating a large potential for major cyclonic events.

• Darwin has the highest per capita consumption of water of any city in Australia.

Duncan Malcolm(Chair, Gippsland Coastal Board), said the Board succeeded in getting a small subdivision approved by a local council stopped partially on the basis of climate change risk.

• The risk along sections of the Victorian coast is being magnified by significant foreshore subsidence caused by groundwater, gas and coal extraction and may only be reversed by potential carbon sequestration.

Norm Farner (Surf Life Saving Australia),said that in cooperation with the University of Sydney and Department of Climate Change, SLSA has permanent monitoring cameras that have stored 17,500 images of 11,000 Australian beaches.

Dr Nicole Gurran (University of Sydney and researcher for National Seachange Taskforce),said that she had focused on peri-urban coastal areas where population fluctuations were a major NRM issue reinforced by the volatility of the construction and tourism industries.

• Many of these communities are becoming older, poorer, have restricted mobility, high car dependence and are conservative in changing attitudes and behaviour to new challenges such as climate change which increase their vulnerability especially as far as health from global warming.

• There is an increasing trend of welfare migration to these areas from people forced out by the price of living in capital cities and an increase in single-person households coupled with an increasing level of second home ownership with absentee owners.
• Planning frameworks in these areas are struggling to meet the challenge from accelerating climate change and the diversity of people moving into those areas.

• In NSW, coastal population growth in peri-urban amenity areas is slowing relative to many other areas in the State.

• Despite the efforts of States on urban consolidation, in coastal amenity areas there is an expansion of low density single allotment sprawl.

• Much of the growth is based on vested interests that are pushing for its continuing in the face of the lack of its sustainability and adaptation to climate change.

Barbara Norman (Past National Chair of Planning Institute of Australia), said that we need to move from integrated coastal management to sustainable coastal planning and harmonisation of State and Local Government planning systems.

• Each State and Territory currently developing their own sea level rise predictions is risking replication of the Murray Darling Intergovernmental difficulties.

• Seven principles for a national planning approach and tripartite intergovernmental agreement:
- National climate change buffer zone
- Coastal dependent users be the priority in foreshore space allocation
- Ongoing evidence-based assessment of vulnerability and cumulative risk
- Importance of community engagement in place-based solutions and community resilience
- Sustainable regional plans for managing urban growth and infrastructure
- Natural and cultural values be recognised in responding to climate change
- Capacity building for local communities with tools for climate change adaptation over the long term rather than short term project funding

Mr Geoff Withycombe(CEO,Sydney Coastal Councils Group), said that in NSW over the next 20-25 years coastal population will grow by 60-65% and many coastal councils are paralysed on initiating climate change actions for fear of liability ramifications and the uncertainty of predictions which has led them to call for a national systems-based approach.

• Some councils that have communicated the local risks from climate change have not been thanked by some residents and fear future policy being developed through long expensive battles in the courts.

Prof Bruce Thom (Member of Wentworth Group), said that eventually the Australian Government may be faced with the construction of large scale barrages e.g. Sydney Harbour and Botany Bay with predictions of accelerated sea level rise meaning the Opera House and Third Runway are vulnerable to flooding on a regular basis.

Dr Robert Kay (Consultant), said the focus of the Australian Government should be on generating as much consistency and certainty with flexibility to take on evolving scientific knowledge that backs quality standards and performance frameworks.

Assoc Prof Geoff Wescott (Deakin University),said that the divergent State and Territory planning approaches on climate change were at risk of replicating the railway gauges legacy of the 19th century – a nationally coordinated approach is required .

Tony Flaherty (SA, former MCCN facilitator),said that he was concerned like many others that current Caring for our Country statements do not mention marine – NRM now seems to stand for “Not Remotely Marine”.

Key Points from concurrent presentations at Conference

• The mere act of engaging in collaborative integrated coastal zone planning can leverage the plans of others and their expectations, options, behaviour, policies and programs in a dynamic physical, social and economic environment even before implementation of the plan.

• Some conservation of biodiversity decision-makers now face not only decisions on what they will attempt to save but also what they are prepared to lose due to accelerating Seachange and climate change pressures and limits of knowledge and resourcing. They also face losing biodiversity during the scoping, consultation and plan development process.

• Expensive investments in coastal protection or relocation owing to climate change are likely to go beyond the resources of local councils and require State and/or Australian Government involvement. A project is being conducted on a sample of Sydney beaches to value natural and man-made assets likely to be threatened by sea level rise.

• There is another study being undertaken to identify ‘trigger points’ for different risks from climate change along sections of vulnerable coastline. It may be inappropriate for authorities to mandate action now when predictions are uncertain and new technology is developing rapidly. Planning schemes may be a good measure for new development but most coastal urban areas are dominated by existing development so a graduated transitional approach may be in order and risk periods may be reduced from the standard 1in 100 years context.

• As part of adaptation processes, authorities could nominate and publicise climate change triggers for land use change e.g. on a specified date; frequency of flood or extreme storm events; staging of land use; or changes of ownership.

• Direct socio-economic impacts of climate change on the coast will grow in the areas of: health and well being; agriculture and fishing; water supply energy infrastructure; property; tourism and recreation; cost of living including insurance; emergency services e.g. floods and bushfire; social cohesion and volunteer networks; leading to disinvestment and out-migration of the most skilled, entrepreneurial and wealthy, leaving the most vulnerable. This will be exacerbated if the trend continues where 25% of national population growth is in the zone 3kms from the coast.

• Climate change will force decisions to defend, adapt or retreat in the light of inundation and land slip. Initial attention has been focused on protecting built development and infrastructure as a result of climate change. This action could create ‘knock on issues’ e.g. if a sea wall is constructed to protect adjacent private property and then forms the low water line you are effectively excluding public access to the beach, which Australian culture values very highly.
• In some areas, allowance for the coast to adjust ‘naturally’ to sea level rise through coastal buffer zones can reduce protection costs and buy time for adaptation and preservation of natural features.

• Some early surveys have shown that paying compensation to owners of established coastal properties is not popular because other tax/ratepayers see coastal foreshore property owners as a wealthy advantaged class. However, this may generate a lot of expensive litigation. There may be a need for assistance for adaptation and protection for these landowners based on a specified transition period e.g. 25 years. There will also be many vulnerable landowners living next to estuaries who do not have the same economic capability but are just as vulnerable.

• If Governments continue to provide protection past a transition time at limited cost to the vulnerable landowners, then people will continue to invest in properties and businesses there and raise the risk and eventual compensation claims.

• The Sydney Coastal Councils Group (SCCG – 15 councils representing 1.3m residents) and the CSIRO’s Climate Change Adaptation Flagship are working with other partners to identify regional barriers, opportunities and interventions to adapt to climate change though a systems approach. The partnership found that there is a high level of confusion between adaptation and mitigation and that a key role for councils will be as change agents for their communities, leading by example.

• Major issues for the SCCG councils are: the legacy effect from planning and infrastructure decisions made up to 150 years ago; overlapping responsibilities with State agencies and need for collaboration and good monitoring. The partnership is keen to see if the findings of the project can be transferred to other areas of Australia.

• The SCCG is also involved in estimating the value of Sydney beaches using benefit cost analysis to inform decision making regarding: projected sea level rise; the threats to constructed assets; tourism and recreation; environmental and cultural assets. Funding for adaptation could be linked to: a land tax with a premium for coastal location; taxing on visitation to beaches; climate change levies by Local Government.

• In NSW, climate change responsibilities under legislation include: 3 Cwlth Acts, 4 NSW Acts and 9 coastal Local Environment Plans. Twenty NSW Government policies include references to climate change but these only need to be ‘considered’ in making a decision. Common law application of negligence and nuisance clauses in regard to climate change and Local Government are highly restricted as long as they have demonstrated the Council can show it acted in good faith. Essentially there are few obligations, legal instruments or responsibilities on councils but it is likely that laws will be amended and there may be some ramifications from the House of Representatives Inquiry on The Impact of Climate Change on the Coast. In the meantime, there is a need for State and Australian Government guidelines.

• The SCCG in partnership with the NSW Environmental Defender’s Office recommends:
- National assessment of climate change legislation and policy
- Development of benchmarks and model provisions for climate change planning e.g. NSW Dept of Planning
- A national implementation plan for climate change implementation that defines roles, responsibilities and actions
- Guidelines to methods or data collection, application and management
- A communication strategy (the community doesn’t like surprise impacts or a sense of ad-hocery impacting on their investments or freedom of independent action)
- Clear methods and protocols for the public disclosure of potential climate change impacts

• Naturally formed sand dunes provide a buffer to reduce the immediate rate of erosion after a severe storm. Given adequate room to form and reform as sea levels change, and with augmentation nourishment and revegetation, the costs of adaptation can be much lower than constructing rock or concrete structures. As well, where high value ecosystems have the potential to move inland, allowance could be made for their movement over time.

• Sea level rise will threaten saline intrusion or inundation of low lying coastal freshwater aquifers that support particular ecosystems, agricultural endeavours and community and industry water supplies.

• A number of NRM authorities believe that the biggest threat from climate change may arise from the way organisations conduct themselves rather than the physical threats of eroding coastlines.

• The NSW Coastal Policy is focusing growth in and around existing centres in order to reduce servicing needs and to provide a mix of land use. The aim is to reduce vehicle kilometres travelled to limit energy requirements and carbon emissions. In identifying future growth areas, the regional strategies seek to protect high conservation value natural assets and avoid ribbon development.

• In Victoria, a new Coastal Strategy is about to be released supported by the three Coastal Boards, the Victorian Coastal Council, Coastal CMAs, State agencies and Local Government. It will guide future planning and on-ground actions based on triple bottom line sustainability principles. It addresses three key issues: climate change, Seachange, and marine ecological integrity.

• In WA, there is $100Bn of oil and gas marine projects likely to come on stream in coming years in the Kimberly where Indigenous groups compose 40% of the population (WA average 4%) and no flora or animal species have been lost as yet. The Kimberley Land Council is driving the consultation process to ensure that any decisions on these developments have informed consent and bring major benefits to the Indigenous communities.

• In WA, the rate of development of economic infrastructure has highlighted the need for a similarly paced development of environmental infrastructure to ensure minimisation of impact of the developments.

• In WA, a study on the Environmental Protection Agency’s offsets scheme has identified that the key drivers are:
- Pressures for coastal development fuelled by the resources boom
- Uncertainty e.g. climate change or ‘green field’ development sites with little base data
- The concept of ‘net environmental benefit’

• The main issues that have emerged from this study are:
- At what stage in the process should offsets be proposed?
- How is ‘like for like’ determined?
- What happens when there is no ‘like for like’?
- Who determines the adequacy of the offset?
- How can the perception of ‘buying approvals through establishing financial offsets funding from the private sector’ be addressed – offsets should be a last resort?
- How is the perception of conflict of interest of stakeholder agencies that receive funding from the financial offsets packages or that Treasury will cut core agency funding if there are private sector offsets to be handled?
- What needs to be considered in establishing monitoring schemes and dealing with uncertainty because of lack of data – banking of offsets for the future as a precautionary approach if there is unexpected outcomes from the development?
- What would be the trigger points for increasing management or accessing the banking of offsets funds for uncertainty?

• In South East Queensland, the feasibility of an estuary offset scheme has been investigated. Under this scheme, offset buyers (point sources such as waste water treatment plants and aquaculture facilities) would be required to engage an offset seller (diffuse sources such as closed loop cycling agricultural or urban developments) to counterbalance the impacts of residual wastewater discharges.

• 80% of the Northern Territory coastline to the low water mark is under the control of the Indigenous people and major international NGOs are becoming increasingly interested in assisting Indigenous peoples around the world to manage their resources. This helps put Indigenous people in a leadership position at the head of the negotiating table on NRM.

• Caring for Country and then Working on Country movements and programs harnessed to the growth of land and sea country management teams (rangers) through transition from CDEP is major opportunity to harness economical and social sustainability to cultural and environmental objectives for Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people in meeting shared development and climate change challenges.

• Sea Country planning programs (cut in the last Budget) enabled traditional owners to develop a discussion and then plans to implement management regimes and ranger programs around targeted shared community goals.

• Andrew Forrest’s new initiative to create 50,000 jobs for Aboriginal people offers new opportunities to manage coastal areas and a major leap forward in corporate social responsibility leadership that can benefit all of the Australian community and its development and environment.

• Under joint management partnerships between Government and Indigenous communities both parties need to factor in:
- Inequality in power
- Different methods and timeframes in communication
- Different approaches and structures regarding status (ability to speak on behalf of), responsibility, ownership, and accountability
- Agreed decision-making processes
- Who is eligible for payment on delivery of outputs and outcomes
- Agreed monitoring processes and performance indicators

• The National Estuaries Network (NEN) meets twice yearly and is made up of estuary managers from each State and territory, as well as invited estuary researchers. The NEN provides up-to-date input to the OzCoasts website.

• OzCoasts has a new NRM reporting module that displays habitat extent, distribution and monitoring and report card reporting. The website features an environmental management module based on adaptive management.

• Some other components of OzCoasts include:
- Information on NRM standards, guidelines and frameworks.
- Search tools to obtain regional plans and strategies and coastal stakeholder information.
- Information summaries on different environmental stressors.
- Links to decision support tools and a facility to build a conceptual model.

• Many environmental report cards suffer from not being fully understood by broad audiences so scientists are working on improving communication techniques.

• A major NRM challenge is developing Environmental Report Cards to take scientific knowledge to a non-scientific community.

• In Victoria and Tasmania, small groups of volunteers participating in coastal management are forming larger amalgamated committees to deliver Integrated Coastal Zone Management programs (ICZM).

• The Integrated Marine Observing System is a national marine monitoring framework coordinated by the CSIRO that is focused on providing long term physical, biological and chemical monitoring records of coastal and regional waters at key locations.

• The NSW Great Lakes region is a hotspot with Water Quality Improvement Plans (WQIPs) developed for each of three lakes: Myall Lakes, Smiths Lake, and Wallis Lake. A decision support system (DSS) has been developed as part of the Great Lakes Coastal Catchment Initiative. The DSS explores likely ecological responses to changes in catchment exports of nutrients and suspended solids.

• There are pressures for a National Costal Policy addressing Seachange, climate change and effective ongoing support for coastal managers and communities, particularly through Local Government who have major planning, approval and community collaboration roles and responsibilities. There would need to be a technical panel and mechanism to bring together the diverse and rapidly evolving information and tools to deliver this policy and strategic funding that goes beyond year to year application at sites along the coast.

3rd National Coastal, Estuarine & Marine Natural Resource Management Workshop : Maintaining Momentum

Download the NRM Workshop Report from 18th August 2008 (pdf file, 113kb)