Wyong has a responsibility to act

We have been hearing lately about the winding back of Wyong Shire Council’s sea level rise measures. CEN recently made comments on the WSC LEP (Local Environmental Plan). The LEP is the head planning document that will govern development in Wyong for the next several years.

The Mayor was heard on ABC radio recently to say regarding sea level rise measures in the LEP: “Oh we’ve taken all that out. We don’t believe in sea level rise in Wyong.”

So the Council (under the leadership of the current Councillors) has left landowners with no advice on the impacts on their property and no controls to protect property improvements into the future. Floor levels will not be raised and any housing built in the coming years will be vulnerable to flooding with potential loss of propety and life.

Councillors have a responsibility to listen to expert advice and make decisions based on the best available information. It is extremely unreasonable to deny the advice of the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology. This advice is backed up by countless scientific organizations and the 100 plus governments that sign their approval of the United Nations Reports on Climate Change and its impacts.

The position taken by Wyong Shire Council is unreasonable and highly negligent. People will suffer loss because of this misguided attitude and they would rightly have grounds for complaint.

CEN’s comment on the LEP is below:

Sea Level rise and Climate Change

The draft LEP disregards the known impacts of climate change and in particular the impacts of sea level rise on flooding and coastal processes. The Council must acknowledge the established scientific reality that sea level rise is accelerating and will be driven higher by warming due to the rapidly increasing atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

The benchmarks of 0.4m by 2050 and 0.9m by 2100 have been temporarily set aside by the NSW Government while detailed criteria are established. Council could be negligent in its duty to landowners to ignore what is an accepted reality for our future.

After the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg acknowledged what scientists have been telling us for decades, “Its Climate Change.” Thousands of people lost their homes, more than 70 people lost their lives in the USA. Economic losses are estimated at US$70 Billion. Scientists report that the storm would have been weaker without the higher sea surface temperatures and increased atmospheric moisture occurring now due to global warming.

Climate Change is a serious issue and its impacts are already being felt in Australia and around the world. It is only a matter of time until we feel the full brunt of such storms here on the Central Coast.

The facts are that human emissions have built up in our atmosphere and oceans to the degree where the global average temperature is rising. This temperature increase will drive sea level rise over the coming decades and into the next century. It is time we all heeded the warning of Hurricane Sandy.

Action is required, of course, to mitigate human emissions but we also need to adapt to changes such as rising sea levels. This is why the Wyong Local Environmental Plan must include recognition of the need to plan for these changes.

The opinion of individuals that “we don’t believe in it” is not a satisfactory defense to neglecting to plan for climate change impacts. Such an ill informed opinion cannot be accepted in the light of the scientific reports. Clearly, we should be preparing for significant changes in the climate with sea level expected to rise at least 1m some time in the next hundred years or so.

We are already seeing the impacts of increased intensity in storms, hotter and dryer droughts and deeper floods (e.g. Queensland and Victoria in recent months). The impact of a big east coast low storm on the Wyong LGA would be devastating with the added influence of the warmer climate we already have. Such impacts will only get worse in coming decades and a recent example is the flooding in Port Macquarie.

If council allow the building of homes in low lying areas that are sure to be impacted as seas rise and storms increase, people who buy such houses would be entirely justified in claiming compensation in the future when the best science today already warns us of the changes to come.

Reports supporting the case for caution in the light of sea level rise include the IPCC (signed off by more than 100 governments under the UN) USA National Academy of Sciences, The Royal Society, The World Bank, The International Energy Agency, The European Community, our own CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology (and many more). All recognized scientific bodies around the world state that our climate is warming and that we must prepare for strong and rapid changes.

Human society has developed in a time of stable climate. We are not ready for the changes we are about to experience. The LEP must incorporate the projected impacts or the result will be that Wyong will be unprepared for the changes and vulnerable to disaster. Council and ratepayers could inherit an enormous economic liability from ill informed consideration of these issues.

The Draft LEP is the critical planning document for preparing for the impacts of climate change in the Wyong LGA. Wyong will suffer the consequences of increased flood damage, loss of property and lives and the misery of people affected if we do not plan properly for the impacts.

The original benchmarks for NSW are consistent with many international scientific reports and highly relevant for management of the risks for the Central Coast. Indeed, the expected range of rises in sea level include values as high as 2m by 2100 (refer to attached NOAA report and other scientific studies) the recent concern regarding melting of permafrost and release of sea floor methane clathrates combined with the continuing lack of international effort to cut emissions of green house gases suggests that the benchmarks of 0.4m and 0.9m are likely to turn out to be too low.

This means there is all the more reason to continue to plan for such impacts and not ignore the warnings.

CEN request that: the LEP recognize the future impacts of climate change and plan for the need to increase community resilience to:

1. Sea Level Rise / Flooding

2. Heat waves and Bushfire

3. Vulnerability of community assets and the built environment

4. Drought

5. Food Security

6. Disease

7. Loss of Biodiversity

Measures must be in place, including the mapping of floods due to sea level rise (already prepared some years ago) incorporated into the LEP to allow planning decisions to be made without ignoring the projected changes expected by the CSIRO and BOM. These include the benchmarks of 0.4m sea level rise by 2050 and 0.9m by 2100 (until updated values are prepared).

As stated in the Report by the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer “The NSW coastline appears from the CSIRO modeling to be the region that will be most impacted by sea level rise, and that impact also varies along the NSW coast.

Further background is given in the reports by BOM, Schaeffer et al 2012, Rahmstorf et al 2012, NOAA 2012 Report. More detail can be provided by reference to the USA National Climate Report at: http://ncadac.globalchange.gov/.

Specific Comment:

Councillors must accept professional advice on Sea Level Rise and Climate Change and the draft LEP be rewritten to include these changes.

CEN wishes to place on record our appreciation to the many professionals, experts and community members who contributed to this submission.

John Asquith


19th March 2013

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