At a glance
All chapters of this report provide examples of promising responses to coastal challenges by governments, working individually and together. However, outcomes in relation to a number of major issues are still far from ideal.
There is significant uncertainty about how climate change will affect species and ecological systems. Local governments are expressing concern about the lack of guidelines, standards and national strategic approaches to addressing coastal development, growing populations and environmental impacts. A major debate about coastal governance has been running for nearly two decades in Australia. The concern among many stakeholders, including those charged with managing coastal settlements and environments, is that development of Australia’s coasts has proceeded in a piecemeal, uncoordinated way. There is a risk that coastal assets could be degraded before they are fully assessed or objectives have been set for their management by Australia as a nation.
So concerned were coastal councils around Australia that, in 2004, they formed the National Sea Change Taskforce. The taskforce has been very active in developing and promoting solutions to state and Australian governments.
This debate took an important step forward in 2009, when the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts handed down its report, Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate: the time to act is now. The report noted that there is limited national collaboration and cooperation to achieve consistencies, efficiencies and agreements on issues such as variation in planning laws, capacities of local councils, monitoring coastal habitat change and legal liabilities. The report made 47 recommendations to address these issues. Most of these recommendations have been noted or accepted in principle by the Australian Government. The quality and timeliness of actions will be critical if existing challenges to coastal sustainability are to be addressed and looming ones prepared for.
In addition, the recent Hawke Report, which provided an independent review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, recommended a range of changes to the Act that would allow it to be applied more strategically and at ecosystem and landscape scales. Many of these recommendations have been accepted by the Australian Government. It remains to be seen whether action is sufficient and soon enough to allow assessment and successful management of the cumulative effects of small developments along the coastal strip. How the three levels of government work together to address these cumulative impacts will be key in determining the future of Australia's coasts.
For two decades, government and governance have been a major focus of the debate about the management of Australia’s coasts. More recently, this debate has focused on what government and governance mean for the resilience of coastal ecosystems and the communities whose futures are linked to the environment. These topics are the focus of this section—we suggest that they are the overarching factor that will determine how Australian coastal environments cope with the dual drivers of population growth and climate change.