Coastal communities planning for adaption to climate change hazards have often been hampered by the lack
of a comprehensive state policy framework that would provide sufficient certainty or guidance to plan. The
previous edition of Urbecon proposed a decisionmaking pathway which local communities could follow
(summarised in Figure 1). But communities also need state governments to provide support through an
accompanying, inter-related coastal investigation and policy pathway.
The eleven steps summarised in Figure 2 are actions that could be taken by State governments to provide an
enabling framework for the local community pathway, with key links between the two noted. While most
states have addressed elements of these steps, none have addressed all of the steps described completely.
1. Establish SLR benchmark
Simply establishing a sea level rise benchmark (i.e. an agreed expected sea level for planning purposes for
say 2050 and 2100) provides no direction about how it should be applied. However, at least having such a
benchmark provides some consistency of expectations and avoids planners, councils and other responsible
organisations having to make their own decision about this basic issue.
Most states have a benchmark. Once adopted, there should be significant effort to advise that the benchmark
is an adopted indication, not a fact, and future sea levels remain uncertain.
2. Identify best information source for inundation hazard levels
Mapping needs to be available to show expected coastal inundation levels in broad terms across each state.
Maps should carry clear, bold caveats about the expected accuracy and use. Most states have some
program for mapping but methods and presentations vary. National consistency would be highly desirable.
3. Identify best information source for erosion hazard lines
Erosion hazard maps can show areas that are not erodible, and in some cases the maximum erodible
extent where erodible areas are backed by rock or steeper terrain. The inland extent of erosion hazard
zones in most other areas will be indicative only until detailed work is done. Maps should carry clear,
bold caveats about the expected accuracy and use. The Smartline erosion mapping (Sharples et al 2009)
is available nationally to identify erodible shores.
4. Determine acceptable levels of risk
Acceptable levels of risk are a key decision point in any planning policy framework. Different acceptable
levels may be adopted for different uses for inundation, erosion and other relevant risks. (NSW Government,
Decisions should reflect rising risk over time with sea level rise and have due regard to risk over the lifetime
of a development or community. Evidence of risk tolerance for assets currently at risk may be helpful in
informing this discussion. Different risk tolerances may be acceptable for different uses (e.g. garden sheds,
dwellings, hospitals). Some development may be permitted well within the hazard zone and subject to
regular inundation or even erosion/undermining but designed to withstand this, while still having acceptable
levels of risk.
5. Identify acceptable standards and methods
Where statewide hazard mapping is regarded as too coarse, agreed acceptable standards and methods
should be available for site specific assessment of coastal risks. This will ensure a degree of consistency
and minimum standards in assessments where site specific evaluation is needed. NSW and other states
have some well established methodologies and handbooks (NSW Government, 1990; DECCW 2010). An
agreed approach is desirable within any state and a national consensus would be valuable.
6. Roles and responsibilities
Clear roles and responsibilities need to be established for state agencies, regional bodies, local governments
and private asset owners including clarification of legal liability issues arising.
After item 4 above, this is the next really hard step. It is also the largest blockage for councils in proceeding
past basic risk assessment in their pathway. It ties in directly to item 8 in the local communities pathway
(discussed in the previous edition of Urbecon). This step will need a strong inter-agency working group and
consultation with local government and some private sector organisations. Ideally it should include affected
communities in key locations with known present day risks.
It is probably more realistic to target parts of the framework at one time and to address these issues in the
context of evaluating scenarios and interrogating the approach most likely to achieve the preferred outcomes.
7. Establish a viable funding framework
The funding framework should cover transition assistance and ongoing adaptation, including protection works
and infrastructure upgrades. If (some) councils are progressing down their adaptation pathways, there should
be good information and development of dialogue to support this thorny discussion. Ideally this would work
best when communities are at steps 10-12 of the community pathway. Until this is resolved, the ‘final'
adaptation planning approaches will not be resolvable.
It should be a clear goal for government not to subsidise people who occupy hazardous locations, but rather
to require them to bear any additional costs that their choices have created. The investment in transitional
support should be seen as the cost of moving to this longer term and more sustainable funding framework.
8. Establish planning and assessment guidelines
State policies often provide a broad requirement to address sea level rise to a specified level, but provide
little guidance about what that means. Ideally, guidelines would be provided for applying the items in the
previous steps to long term strategic planning, planning scheme development and assessment of individual
These guidelines can only be comprehensive if the frameworks are resolved, including all of steps 1-7. Partial
guidelines would still be of some value. While expecting some variation from state to state, a broad degree
of national consistency would be valuable.
9. Recovery assistance policy
Any recovery assistance policy should align closely with, and reinforce, the framework developed in steps 6,
7 and 8. Bailing out property owners in hazard zones too generously and helping them to re-establish there
after a major, damaging event destroys their home is unlikely to reinforce a workable adaptation strategy -
but that tends to be the default position at present. A fair and reasonable alternative needs to be articulated
and institutionalised, ideally at arm's length from political decisions.
10. Develop transition policies
The approach proposed here will represent a significant change from present practice and some form of
transition assistance is likely to be required. However, it should not be too generous and should be consistent
with the capacity to provide. It should not over-commit to short term protection works, but seek to gain
community support for the longer term policy framework.
A transition period should be long enough for people to adjust their investment decisions but not so long as
to never happen. About 10-15 years is plenty.
11. Develop policies for assisting high-needs households
High needs households affected by a substantially changed set of rights and responsibilities including costs
could be disadvantaged beyond their capacity to adapt, and some assistance may be required. With
appropriate policies and a reasonable transition period, the scale of assistance required should be modest.
The Statewide adaption policy framework pathway and the related Community adaption pathway are proposed
as a way of moving to sustainable coastal management and adaptation to climate change. Together, they will
enable a change from current unsustainable practices with uncertain outcomes to a future where coastal
investors and occupants can make decisions with certainty about their responsibilities.
DECCW (2010) Flood Risk Management Guide: incorporating sea level rise benchmarks in flood risk
assessments, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water NSW Sydney
NSW Government (1990), Coastline Management Manual, Sydney, Australia
NSW Government (2005), Floodplain Development Manual: the management of flood liable land, April,
Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources, ISBN 0 7347 5476 0, DIPNR 05_020
Sharples, Chris; Mount, Richard & Pedersen, Tore (2009) The Australian Coastal Smartline Geomorphic
and Stability Map Version 1: Manual and data dictionary UTas
SGS Economics and Planning (2011) Urbecon Volume 2, 2011, p. 3 ‘A coastal climate adaption pathway