Desirable futures—that is, futures in which harmony exists between the demands that humans place on coastal environments and the sustainability of coastal ecosystems—are most likely if major reform of coastal governance is achieved in the next decade or sooner, so that strategic action can be taken to identify and prepare for risks from sea level rise. Whether through incentives, regulation or both, coastal communities will need to balance infrastructure and services against population size and make-up. This will require dialogue about such issues as where and how people live, and how the facilities and services offered by coastal centres compare with those offered in larger centres.
Coastal communities might improve their financial base by playing a role in emerging carbon economies. The concept of ‘blue carbon’—carbon sequestration by healthy coasts and oceans—is gaining considerable currency in international discussions.55
These changes will be important first steps in addressing pollution, waste management, recreation, tourism, invasive species and other pressures on coastal environments. Another requirement will be improved information on which species and ecosystems are being affected, and are likely to be affected, by human activities on coasts. The advanced level of dialogue and tangible plans for action that have been put forward by a range of stakeholders—culminating in the recommendations of the 2009 report by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts, Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate: the time to act is now38—are a good start towards desirable coastal futures. However, whether action is taken quickly enough will depend partly on political will and partly on the magnitude and speed of climate change in coming decades.