The eastern suburbs could be underwater in 80 years due to climate change. Credit: Wikipedia commons

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BY GEORGIA CLARK

The global icecaps are melting with greater inertia than ever before, causing some of Sydney’s most iconic coastal suburbs to be at risk of flooding. A groundbreaking visual map depicting parts of Sydney’s inner city and east underwater by 2100 has prompted concern that some residential properties may not be adequately safeguarded against the risk of coastal inundation.

The data, which was released last week, depicts many coastal properties stretching from Elizabeth to Watsons Bay almost completely submerged in water. Deputy Mayor of Woollahra Council, Susan Wynne said that because the Woollahra coastline is permanently open to the ocean it is also susceptible to high tides and coastal inundation.

“The main coastal management issues experienced within Woollahra are associated with heavy rain events and high tides which can cause significant coastal flooding,” she said.

According to the ACE Research Centre, Australia will experience roughly a 300-fold increase in flooding events after a sea-level rise of 0.5 m, which will almost certainly be attained this century. The Climate Council predicts that $72 billion worth of Australian homes are susceptible to sea levels rises of 1.1 metres.

With the majority of insurance companies excluding ‘acts of the sea’ from their cover, there are concerns that legal grey areas and the perceived risk of coastal living could see property owners bearing the brunt of coastal inundation in decades to come.

Councillor Wynne said that while insurance cover varies among property owners, and council has a role to play in safeguarding residents, landowners themselves should consider long term solutions to protecting themselves from coastal inundation.

“At present each State controls the laws that determine what councils can do at the local planning level. Council can help facilitate the protection of private and public land from future storm events, however the longer term solution is more important and that depends on the actions of each individual and each community,” she said.

A NSW Department of Planning and Environment spokesperson said that the government is doing its best to protect property owners by giving councils a funding injection to manage coastal risks.

“The NSW Government will provide $83.6 million for coastal management over the next five years. This funding will assist councils, who are largely responsible for coastal management, in developing and implementing coastal management programs to respond to coastal values, needs and risks including storms and coastal erosion,” they said.

The Coastal Management Bill, passed by both Houses of Parliament last year, creates an obligation under s22 for councils to give effect to their coastal management programs, and to reduce threats in response to climate change. The reforms include tougher regulations which require coastal protection works to have development approval.

Whether or not the coastal damage is the responsibility of residents or council depends on whether the land is crown land or private property. A spokesperson for the Department of Planning and Environment said that council bears some responsibility for protecting coastal properties.

“In addition to council led responses to coastal hazards, private landowners can construct coastal protection works, with necessary approvals,” they said.

Greens NSW MP and Environment Spokesperson, Dr Mehreen Faruqi MLC has expressed growing concern about the potential impact of climate change on coastal communities.

“The Government’s own reports clearly acknowledge the risks of climate change to thousands of residential buildings, roads, railways and other infrastructure that could amount to billions of dollars in damage along the NSW coast.The urgency to act on climate change is real and must be taken seriously,” she said.

But Dr Faruqi said the government’s land clearing laws will exacerbate rising sea levels, and could worsen without a coordinated local, state and federal government effort.

“The NSW Government’s land clearing laws will see the release of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases which will further exacerbate climate change which in turn contributes to sea level rise,” she said.

Woollahra Council last week screened a preview of ‘A Plastic Ocean’ to raise awareness of the impact of plastic pollution on our oceans.