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Sea level rise

Sea level rise is an increase in the average water level of the ocean. Coastal residents will, over time, experience higher tides and witness changes to the coastal and estuarine environments.

On this page, we provide answers to common questions about sea level rise, what  it means for you and what Council is doing.

Frequently asked questions

How is Council planning for sea level rise?

We recognise that sea level rise is a serious global problem that will require a response by all levels of government.

We met our legal responsibility to consider sea level rise by adopting the Interim Coastal Hazard Adaptation Code (the interim code) on 24 February 2015. The interim code recognises the potential long-term impacts of sea level rise and the need for appropriate planning responses to ensure that we facilitate economic activity and development that is resilient.

The interim code has a role in providing information to the community about potential current exposure to coastal hazards or future exposure to sea level rise. Having this information available allows landowners or potential investors to identify the risks and build resilience over the life of their investments.

Earlier, we adopted a new regional approach to planning for sea level rise that included a more flexible approach to how development was assessed.

The South Coast Regional Sea Level Rise Planning and Policy Response is a partnership project with Shoalhaven City Council to develop a regional approach to how sea level rise will be considered by our strategic plans and development assessment processes. The approach was adopted at the Ordinary Council Meeting on 25 November 2014 and will guide ongoing investigations into the impacts of coastal and flood hazards.

The report was prepared by independent consultants with assistance from a Technical Advisory Committee consisting of the partner councils and experts from the Office of Environment and Heritage.

Why do we have 'interim' development guidelines?

There is a legal requirement to consider sea level rise when making policy, planning and development decisions. The Interim Coastal Hazard Adaptation Code allows Council to meet its legal and planning obligations to recognise sea level rise. The interim code will be replaced following completion of a Coastal Management Program.

How much sea level rise do we plan for?

We have adopted the South Coast Regional Sea Level Rise Planning and Policy Response and sea level rise projections based on the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) RCP 6.0 emissions scenario:

  • 23cm sea level rise by the year 2050 (which is lower than previous State policy)
  • 72cm sea level rise by the year 2100 (which is lower than previous State policy)

These projections are taken from a benchmark year of 2014.

These planning levels will be reviewed following the next assessment report issued by the IPCC.  This generally occurs every five to seven years. The Fort Denison tidal records will be used to report changes to mean sea level as they arise.

How do we compare to other councils?

Results from a survey undertaken by staff at Shoalhaven City Council and Eurobodalla Shire Council indicated a majority of councils in NSW continue to apply the NSW Sea Level Policy Statement (2009).  Local examples include:

The previous NSW Government advice cited that national and international projections of sea level rise along the NSW coast are for a rise of:

  • 40cm by 2050
  • 90cm by 2100.

These projections are taken from a benchmark year of 1990. The previous State policy needs to be adjusted to a bench mark year of 2014 to make it directly comparable to the existing Eurobodalla planning levels for sea level rise.  The adjusted levels currently applied by a majority of councils is:

  • 35cm by 2050
  • 85cm by 2100.

The table below shows that a majority of NSW south coast councils apply higher projections for sea level rise when making policy, planning and development decisions than we do. The only exception is Shoalhaven City Council that applies a projection equal to Eurobodalla up to the planning period ending at 2050 and a lower projection for the planning period ending at 2100.

Council area

Sea level rise projections considered for planning purposes (adjusted to 2014)

2050

2100

Eurobodalla

23cm

72cm

Bega

35cm

85cm

Shoalhaven

23cm

35cm

Kiama

35cm

85cm

Wollongong

35cm

85cm

Can I still develop in areas that are potentially at risk from sea level rise?

We promote a flexible approach that allows for a range of development options in areas potentially at risk from sea level rise. This allows land that is at risk in the future to be used now for a range of economic and residential purposes.

Can I protect my home from coastal storms and sea level rise?

Our interim code does not stop property owners from applying to construct coastal protection works. Owners may choose to forward an application to protect their properties, however, until we complete our Coastal Management Program, any applications to assess these works will need to be forwarded to the NSW Government for determination.

Coastal protection works can be very expensive and the approval process can be difficult. To overcome this constraint, property owners are offered the option to design a home that can be easily removed once the risk from sea level rise threatens the structure. Known as 'planned retreat', this option offers an affordable pathway to development approval. Planned retreat also prevents the land from being unnecessarily sterilised by providing an option that can both exploit the land in the short-term, while recognising the potential long-term risk.

When will the interim code be replaced?

The completion of the South Coast Regional Sea Level Rise Planning and Policy Response project has allowed us to recommence the Coastal Management Program. Preparation of the Coastal Management Program was stalled following withdrawal of advice from the NSW Government on how to consider sea level rise for planning purposes. With new regional guidelines for sea level rise in place, we can now get on with the important job of preparing an overarching strategy for coastal management. The interim code will be replaced following adoption of this program.

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