Councilors of the Australian coastal city of Shoalhaven have taken a moderate approach to planning for sea level rise. Shoalhaven’s future planning decisions and real estate notices will be made in anticipation of sea levels rising by nine inches by 2050. Nine inches was a mid-range estimate, more than an inch below the level recommended by consultants Shoalhaven hired to help develop its planning response to rising sea levels.
In addition, Shoalhaven’s planning levels were the first public rejection of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization’s (CSIRO) recommendation to plan for up to 31 inches of sea level rise. CISRO is the Australian national science agency. Other coastal towns planning for rising sea levels have adopted CSIRO’s recommendations.
Evidence, Not Models
The councilors noted research shows sea-level projections are very imprecise, and the further out you go, the less precise they become. In addition, the higher the level of sea level rise planned for, the more properties affected and higher the costs for property owners trying to insure or sell their coastal properties.
The councilors also built a relief valve into their coastal impact planning, something other councils had not done. Every seven years the town will compare projected sea levels to the actual measurements. If sea level rise has slowed or risen, adjustments can be made to coastal impact plans.
In response to Shoalhaven’s planning decision, Tom Harris, executive director of the International Climate Science Coalition, said, “The rate of change of average global sea level is immaterial to coastal planning. It is only the rate of local change that matters to cities, towns, and other settlements. It is very perceptive of Shoalhaven city planners to actually measure local sea level rise on a periodic basis and make their future plans based on what they actually observe.”
H. Sterling Burnett ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.