Erosion at Collaroy

By Claire

Legislation put in place by the former Labor Government of NSW stating that councils must take UN projections of sea level rise into consideration in their coastal management policies, has been overturned by the O’Farrell Liberal Government.

These laws were used to determine which coastal properties were ‘at risk’ of coastal erosion and to limit the future development of these ‘at risk’ areas. These laws compelled coastal councils to prepare for a forecast sea-level rise of 40cm by 2050 and 90cm by the turn of the century.

As a result, the value of coastal properties that had been identified as at risk dropped (by approx. 40%), prompting these people to petition government to review and ultimately remove the planning restrictions placed on them.

While I can sympathise with the people who own these coastal properties, the removal of these planning restrictions leaves the council open for future legal action.

Greens MP John Kaye sums up these concerns in an interview with the ABC.

“I think you’ll find local councils in coastal areas up and down the state scratching their heads and saying ‘what do we now do in terms of development applications that come in in areas that are affected or could be affected by sea level rises in the future?'” he said.

“The councils are in a difficult position. If they approve a development in one of these vulnerable areas where the scientific evidence is indicating that it will at-risk in the future, and there is damage associated with sea level-rise in the future, then somewhere down the track they’re going to incur that liability.”

“If they refuse the development now, what inevitably happens is the property owner is going to take an action against them before the Land and Environment Court to get the decision overturned.”

The O’Farrell Government has cited the apparent uncertainties within the IPCC‘s sea level projections as the reason for removing them from legislation.

Within scientific research, it is required that uncertainties be provided for any result. This takes into account the inherent ‘unknowns’ that can not be taken into account, particularly when it comes to future projections. The inclusions of uncertainties does not mean that scientist’s results are flawed, but rather, that nothing can be stated with absolute certainty (for a better description of the use of uncertainties within science, check out the “Theory or Fact?” page on our website).

Cracks appear in the paving of a beachfront property at Belongil near Byron Bay on NSW’s north coast on June 18, 2009, after much of it was lost to the ocean due to erosion. (ABC News: Elloise Farrow-Smith)

To throw away the whole result because of these uncertainties displays an unfamiliarity with scientific methodology, and, is quite simply, ridiculous (especially since we can see increasing coastal erosion already in some areas).

We know that climate change is real and while we may not know with complete ‘certainty’ the consequences of this, we can not throw away science’s best projections because we don’t like what that means for us.

Read more in a report by the ABC and The Australian (as an interesting aside, take note of the different tones of the two articles (The Australian is known to publish stories more on the side of climate deniers)).