Parliamentary report in Australia shows 700,000 coastal homes may
be at risk if global warming continues and sea levels rise. Local
conflicts are brewing over residents who want to build seawalls and
town planners who want to move houses away from Australia's beaches.
A two-mile arc of golden sand in Sydney's northern suburbs,
Collaroy Beach is a beautiful spot. "I wouldn't live anywhere else,"
declares Roger Wright, watching surfers bob in the waves on a recent
But Collaroy is not always so idyllic. During severe storms, the
beach is lashed by mountainous seas that strip away tons of sand and
lap at the gardens of beachside properties. Fences have been washed
away and living rooms flooded. Sometimes children can jump straight
into the ocean from their backyards.
Long affected by natural erosion, Collaroy now faces additional
pressures: It is one of three coastal stretches in Australia
identified as most vulnerable to global warming. With scientists
predicting more frequent and severe storms, exacerbated by rising
sea levels, the multimillion dollar properties along its beachfront
are considered at serious risk.
The situation is mirrored around the country; indeed, a recent
parliamentary report here warned that thousands of miles of
coastline, and billions of dollars of property and infrastructure,
are under threat. The committee called for a ban on new development
in sensitive areas and raised the possibility of the government
forcing people to abandon prime beachfront homes.
The report sent a shiver through a country where the beach, the
surf, and the right to a seaside lifestyle are almost sacrosanct.
And it adds fuel to local government efforts to curb coastal
building. Eighty percent of Australia's population lives within 30
miles of the water, and that proportion is steadily growing. But
with sea levels projected to rise globally - if greenhouse gas
emissions continue unchecked - by about three feet by 2100, the
concentration of people on the coast presents enormous challenges.
Mr. Wright, who lives in an apartment overlooking the ocean, is
not worried. "I wouldn't dream of moving," he says. "I've lived here
for 25 years and it's always the same. The king tides wash away the
sand, then the sand comes back. I don't believe it's going to get
worse - and if it does, I'll be in the ground by then."
Pulling people back from the coast
Planners and policymakers are less sanguine, particularly at the
local level, where some municipal councils are already locked in
conflict with residents. At Byron Bay, another climate change "hot
spot," on the northern New South Wales coast, wealthy owners of
beachside properties are threatening to sue the council over its
refusal to allow them to build protective sea walls.
Byron council - which believes such walls could seriously degrade
a popular public beach - has a policy of "planned retreat,"
requiring people to relocate as the coastline recedes. …