By Kelly

Image: Life Saving platform built well above sea level at Lakes Entrance, Victoria (2013) - photo Barbara Norman
Image: Life Saving platform built well above sea level at Lakes Entrance, Victoria (2013) – photo Barbara Norman

I am quite sure that I am not the only student that has felt a disconnect between their science and its application to the real world. Which is why it is so stimulating to hear what is happening on the front line; where the science influences public policy. Last week the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (or NCCARF to its friends) released a report titled South East Coastal Adaptation (SECA): Coastal urban climate futures in SE Australia from Wollongong to Lakes Entrance that outlines an integrated framework of how coastal communities may face the challenges that a changing climate brings.

Here at OnCirculation we often report on sea-level rise; from how we measure it to how it has changed through time, most often with a focus on how this informs our understanding of global sea level in a warmer future. But let’s step away from the global picture for a second, and look at the regional scale. How do coastal communities adapt for climate change? 

Some of the key findings from NCCARF’s report are that current coastal planning regulations fall short of what is needed in the coming decades and  that without consistent and coordinated leadership between State and Local Government, local communities lack the necessary guidance to ‘retrofit’ the existing built environment, which is as important, if not more so, than the implementation of policy on new development. Vulnerability assessments need to be made on key public infrastructure such as sewage, transport, schools,  and health care institutions in preparation not only for predicted sea level rise and inundation events, but for the increasing occurrence and magnification of bushfires, droughts and heatwaves. The cost of replacing this infrastructure must be quantified and investment strategies put in place to ensure vulnerable communities, and vulnerable members of the community such as the ageing population, are protected from the impact of extreme events.

The report calls for ‘community-friendly’ presentation of the facts, free from scientific and administrative jargon, that promotes ongoing collaboration and on-the-ground decision-making. New employment opportunities are critical to address the surge of young people migrating away from the coast, affecting community resilience and the ability to man community and emergency management services.

As a climate scientist (of sorts), I found reading this report put my own work  in to perspective. When I complete my project it will feel finished, but in the broader context it is just the beginning. My findings describe the response of the natural environment to current climate change; how we translate our understanding of natural science to human adaptation seems overwhelmingly complex. Luckily, we have facilities such as NCCARF to provide a framework.

I strongly encourage you to access the entire report online here, or download the pdf here: