How coastline communities are trying to build climate change ‘resilience’

Earlier this week I participated in a fascinating symposium organised by the Gold Coast Waterways Authority on ‘Resilience, Climate Change and Coastal Communities’. Queensland’s Gold Coast is one of the more vulnerable locations along Australia’s east coast, having experienced a long history of extreme weather events, coastal erosion and loss of life and property. Climate change is likely to take this vulnerability to a whole new level with storms and cyclones of increasing ferocity, flooding, extreme heat and escalating sea-level rise.

The pattern of coastal development on the Gold Coast since the 1960s has of course been of a particularly stark kind. Massive high rise hotels and apartments butting right onto the surf beaches and expanding residential development amongst reclaimed estuaries and mangroves. Added to this, like much of south-east Queensland, the area is growing rapidly, with a doubling of the population to 1.2 million estimated by 2050. As a result, the ability to make the region ‘sustainable’ in the face of worsening climate change appears a herculean task.

What was encouraging about this event, however, was the clear evidence of a  range of community stakeholders aware of the challenges and beginning the task of developing strategies and practices to make this area less vulnerable to future physical threats.

Among a range of excellent speakers, the day kicked off with a fascinating presentation by Susanne Torriente, the Chief Resilience Officer of Miami, who shared insights into what this most vulnerable of US cities has been doing in response to the threat of coastal flooding and sea-level rise. Beyond the massive and costly engineering tasks of retrofitting drainage systems and raising road levels, the key initiative has involved breaking down regulatory and organisational ‘silos’ and building new communities of decision-makers and communities to design collaborative and wide-ranging responses to climate adaptation.

This pattern of local government, community, academic and NGO engagement was a recurring theme during other presentations over the day, as speakers outlined initiatives being trialed and developed in the Gold Coast region, and worked through models to finance local adaptation efforts. Indeed, these US and Australian examples highlighted how in the face of Federal government intransigence and climate denial, often it is  communities and local governments that are taking the lead in reacting to the worsening climate crisis.

Of course not all local representatives are so enlightened and forward thinking (witness the mayors of North Queensland towns who have become boosters for the huge Adani Carmichael coal mine!). However, the symposium was an uplifting insight into the practical responses progressive communities are undertaking in response to the worsening realities of climate change.

Gold Coast Waterways Authority CEO Mara Bun in conversation with Miami Chief Resilience Officer Susanne Torriente at the GCWA climate resilience symposium, Monday 22nd May 2017.

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