Climate Change Adaptation in Coastal Cities: Insights from the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

By Melanie Thomas, David King and Pedro Fidelman.

Published by The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Coastal cities are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, with sea level rise and extreme flood events predicted to impact critical infrastructure for a wide range of socioeconomic activities. In Australia, for example, it is estimated that more than A$226 billion in residential, commercial, industrial, and road and rail assets are exposed to future coastal climate hazards. The coastline adjacent to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR) in the state of Queensland will be exposed to increased inundation under climate change scenarios from both sea level rise and extreme weather events such as floods and cyclones. This has been evidenced by the impacts from the 2010–2011 floods and 2011 Tropical Cyclone Yasi. In this context, governments at all levels, from local to national, in Australia and elsewhere, have been adopting strategies to protect coastal assets that incorporate climate change. In general, these strategies fall into four categories: 1) do nothing, 2) retreat, 3) defend and 4) adapt. This paper examines the value of these four adaptation approaches by reviewing strategies from several international jurisdictions. To gain further insights into the value of the key coastal policy responses to climate change, the case study of coastal cities along the GBR is examined. It was concluded that because the approaches analysed (do nothing, retreat, defend and adapt) have different rationales and feature both weakness and strengths, a combination of such approaches would provide the best option for climate change adaptation in the GBR and in other jurisdictions.

Keywords: Coastal Adaptation, Climate Change, Sea Level Rise, Coastal City, Policy, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp.107-128. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.200MB).

Melanie Thomas

Research Worker, Centre for Disaster Studies, Centre for Tropical Urban & Regional Planning, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia

Research and policy interests are focused on coastal disaster planning and adaptation to climate change. Human geography research worker for the Centre for Disaster Studies at James Cook University in Australia involved in studies focused on analyses of specific natural disaster events impacts on social resilience and planning policy. Currently works for the Australian Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. Formerly worked for the Australian Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sports; the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority; the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment; and for Queensland local government.

Asso, Prof. David King

Associate Professor, James Cook University, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland, Australia

David King is Director of the Centre for Disaster Studies at James Cook University in Australia. Along with researchers in the centre he studies social impacts of natural and anthropogenic disasters, focussing on vulnerability, mitigation, warnings and education, community responses and recovery, land use planning and policy implications, and climate change adaptation. The centre works closely with emergency managers and government stakeholders. The emphasis of research during recent years has been on climate change adaptation with engagement with the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, who funded this project.

Dr. Pedro Fidelman

Research Fellow, Australian Research Centre for Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, University of the Sunshine Coast, Townsville, Queensland, Australia

Pedro Fidelman is a research fellow with the Sustainability Research Centre at the University of the Sunshine Coast. His research focus, in a broad sense, on the social and institutional dimensions of environmental change. Pedro holds a PhD from the University of Wollongong, Australia, and has held research positions in Brazil and Australia.

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