Climate Change related Sea Level Rise Policy changes in New South Wales

16 Apr

by David Holland

This is an up dated paper first written in 2010 but still relevant in 2015 more than ever with continued evidence of the effects of chimate change in a range of environments.  The paper can be viewed through the link at the bottom of this web page. Since this paper was written in 2010 there has been a series of developments related to both NSW State government and some Central Coast local government councils and their policies. After the Labor State government announced in 2009 the recognition of sea level rise being a scientific fact through the Draft Flood Risk Management Guide published by the Department of Environment and Climate Change Water (DECCW) several predictable things happened. Firstly we need to understand that the DECCW based finding of 900mm sea level rise by the year 2100 on the shores of NSW is from data produced by the 2007 fourth session report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change[1]. This report indicated that sea level rise was predicted under present emission levels and a projected increase was expected to be between 1 meter and 3.7 meters by the year 2100. From the 5th session report of the IPCC in 2013 further information has been gathered and more finding published on sea level rise predictions. However, after the initial IPCC report and the NSW State government considering the revision of flood level planning and standards in the State, local councils who have been starting to implement the new planning standards along the coastal regions, experienced a backlash from land owners. As predicted in the paper in 2010, insurance premiums started to rise on coastal properties. Councils through a due diligence processes began to realize that if a house were to be approved for development and was likely to have a life span of 60 to 100 years, the minimum floor level should reflect the projected sea level rise at or up to the year 2100. This has meant that the full height of the increase of sea level assessed to be 900mm by the year 2100 was now the new standard for the calculation of the minimum floor level. This has also meant that flood planning had to reflect the maximum level of expected flood over the next 90 years as if it were the standard for today. This in turn alerted the insurance companies and skewed their risk assessment process, which had to reflect the new standard of 900mm. As a result insurance premiums went up to previously unheard of levels. Some property owners were experiencing insurance premiums of over $4000 a year. The political backlash was so great that coastal councils started to ignore due diligence and allow homes to be built at current floor levels without consideration for the State government’s Draft Risk Management Guide 2009. After a change of government and due to the political backlash, the State government also decided to backtrack from their mandatory standard floor level assessment as an interim measure for councils without an updated flood management plan reflecting the new State government predictions of 900mm by the year 2100. Instead the State government, through its department has change the guidelines to reflect a non specific approach to sea level rise but still maintaining the fact that sea levels will rise to the 900mm previously suggested, but now has put the onus of providing flood level risk information to land owners onto the local councils, opening the way for them to ignore the 2007 IPCC report.[2] [3] The fifth session 2013 IPCC report when commenting on climate change induced sea level rise was very careful to report a range of scenarios, qualifying and re-qualifying projections. If we were to read between the lines of qualification, for the east coast of Australia, a lower level prediction for average sea level rise would be between 300mm and 480mm from present day 2013 levels by the year 2100.[4] [5] However, one very important and significant component of the sea level projection is missing and that is storm surge predictions that must be atop the sea level rise due to global sea warming causing seawater expansion and ice cap melting. This brings a conservative sea level rise risk in a storm event to up to 800 mm or more by the year 2100 depending on the intensity of the off shore weather event present. Since with increasing evidence of more intense storm events now considered to be caused by global warning, and the prediction that increased global warming will precipitate more such events, higher levels of sea level surge is likely to be more prevalent. Faced with this evidence and the new provisions of the guidelines placing onus on council to assess risk, Gosford Council in early 2014 has finally decided to acknowledge the risk of litigation it has been exposed to by previously deleting flood references on the 149 certificates in 2012.[6] After the recommendation by the State government, the council has again decided to implement a notice on each likely affected property to recognize increased risks of sea level rise and tidal inundation along with its flooding notifications. These notices were attached to each property through the provisions of section 149 of the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979.[7] This should now put pressure in other coastal councils to do likewise. However, under this provision of open information about property characteristics, it again presents a likelihood that insurance companies will reconsider the provisional notice an indicator for increased risk of flooding of the subject property and raise premiums in line with the perceived risk associated with sea level rise. In addition, in light of the new IPCC 5th report, these actions of both the NSW State government and local councils, highlights the lack of due diligence in the policy settings of the State government and perhaps the Federal government in ignoring probable reactions of the insurance companies. Governments need to accept the real probability of climate change induced sea level rise and strategically plan appropriate legislation to ensure a smooth path to higher sea levels in Australia. This paper gives a strategy for the State governments throughout Australia and coastal local governments to deal with insurance risks and progressive sea level rise over the next 90 years and beyond. This paper offers a way to consider forward planning in a context of the risks associated with climate change induced sea level rise. The Strategy advocates a local councils partnership with both State and the Federal Government to provide ways to provide insurance cover and infrastructure to reduce risks to coastal properties.

[1] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), fourth report 2007,

[2] NSW Planning and Infrastructure – Coastal Management and adapting to sea level rise, (ref.

[3] NSW Planning, NSW Coastal Planning Guidelines – Adapting to Sea Level Rise (2010), (Ref.

[4]Fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report 2013, (ref. (

[5]This above statement should be read as a conservative figure for sea level rise and depending on how the future circumstances change levels could be considerably higher.

[6] Sea Level Rise in Gosford Council area,

[7] See Article Central Coast Express Advocate, Friday March 28, 2014; “Sea rise rules upset”.

To see the full paper follow the link below: Planning for Climate Change – The Risk Model for Sea Level Rise Discussion Paper – 3rd Edition Rev 1


One Response to “Climate Change related Sea Level Rise Policy changes in New South Wales”

  1. Habitat Association April 16, 2014 at 4:48 am #

    Reblogged this on Habitat Association.

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