A new report into the effects of climate change on Australia’s vast coastline is forcing Aussies to consider the unthinkable: life away from the surf.
Beach culture is key to the nation’s identity. Some 80 percent of people live along the coast, so oceanside living is often seen as a virtual birthright. But a government environmental committee warns that thousands of miles of Australia’s coastline are under threat from rising sea levels.
The report, issued to parliament late Monday after an 18-month study, suggests officials consider the possibility of banning people from living in vulnerable areas.
“The Committee agrees that this is an issue of national importance and that the time to act is now,” the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts wrote.
The report makes 47 recommendations on how Australia can better prepare for the effects of climate change, including reviewing evacuation plans, overhauling building codes to ensure sturdier homes, and having the government take a bigger role in helping coastal communities adapt to the impacts of rising sea levels.
The report does not say the government should force people to move inland but proposes an independent group look into whether the government could -- and should -- do just that.
Alan Stokes, executive director of the Sydney-based National Seachange Taskforce, which represents coastal community councils across Australia, says banning development in certain areas is necessary if the government wants to prevent a major loss of life in the event of natural disasters such as tsunamis.
Aside from obvious safety issues, many coastal residents are finding it increasingly difficult to insure homes that are in high—risk areas, and the situation will only worsen as beach erosion escalates, he said.
“There’s no doubt Australia will remain and continue to be a coastal community,” he said Tuesday. “But we may have to be a bit more considerate about which parts of the coast we develop further and which ones we don’t.”
The idea of being forced out of coveted ocean-side locations doesn’t sit well with many Australians.
“Whilst we often market ourselves overseas via the Outback, the place that we really like to come and go to relax is the beach,” said Kylie Lambert, 42, who has lived in her beach house in the Sydney suburb of Collaroy for seven years.
Her neighbour has lost about seven feet (two meters) of his yard to the ocean in the last couple of years, and one storm sent waves crashing over her own back fence. But Lambert is staying put.
“I guess we still live here because we do believe humanity’s smart enough and has enough self—interest to turn things around,” she said.
In certain high-risk locations, limiting development is reasonable, said coastal engineer Tom Black of the University of Queensland. But a blanket ban on seaside living is not, he said.
“I don’t think in general over large areas it’s either practical or probably even necessary,” Baldock said. “The more important thing is to understand the risks.”
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd used the report to try and drum up support for his climate change legislation, which would curb the amount of greenhouse gas pollution the country emits. Rudd told parliament on Tuesday that the findings highlight the need for passage of a carbon pollution reduction scheme ahead of December’s global conference on the issue in Copenhagen.