From: My Sunshine Coast
23 November 2009 COUNCILS FACE LEGAL DILEMMA OVER SEA LEVEL RISE
Australia’s coastal councils face the possibility of costly legal actions as a result of recent changes to projected sea level rise, according to the National Sea Change Taskforce.
The Taskforce, which represents non-metropolitan coastal councils in all states, is advising member councils they will need to take into account the revised sea level rise scenario of 1.1m, which was announced in a new government report on climate change released last week.
Alan Stokes, the executive director of the Taskforce, said the process of approving development applications in coastal areas at potential risk of inundation could be thrown into disarray by recent changes in projected sea level rise.
“Development applications that were approved a week ago based on a projected sea level rise of 0.8m in Victoria, or 0.9m in NSW could already be shown to be based on scientific projections that are now redundant, exposing the consent authority to potential legal liability,” he said.
“The nation’s coastal councils need a greater measure of legal protection in order to provide some certainty in deciding development applications in areas at risk of sea level rise.”
Mr Stokes said it was only last year that some states were basing planning decisions on a projected sea level rise of 0.3m or 0.38m. “The release of the Federal Government report Climate Change Risks to Australia’s Coasts last Saturday has changed all that,” he said.
“No consent authority in the nation can now argue they were unaware of a potential sea level rise of 1.1m by the year 2100. That now appears to have become the default scenario, with some local variation, which planners around Australia will need to take into account when considering any coastal development application.”
“This is a national issue affecting all coastal councils which could have significant impacts on property owners seeking to proceed with developments in areas at perceived risk. It is an issue that urgently requires clarification, as recommended in the report of the coastal Inquiry by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change.”
A leading environmental lawyer supported the need for coastal councils to examine the nature and extent of potential climate change impacts very carefully when considering coastal development applications.
Andrew Beatty a partner specialising in environment law with the law firm Baker & McKenzie said there was no doubt that failure to consider climate change impacts when making coastal planning decisions leaves councils exposed to the risk of costly legal actions.
“These cases are complicated by the fact that climate change impacts on coastal land do not occur immediately or in predictable ways,” he said. “Each case will turn on its own facts.”