Shifting the tide

To better understand the impact of climate change, we recently investigated how different LGAs are approaching the imminent threats of Rising Sea Levels (RSL) and Rising Flooding, Coastal Erosion and Climate (RFCC) on our coastline morphology and communities. Led by Hames Sharley’s Head of Research and Development, Emil Jonescu, and Director of Urban Development, Chris Maher, the study called for a unified approach from all levels and a holistic city-scale masterplan and research venue, to create stronger and resilient cities for everybody.

From the Torres Strait to Tasmania, our coastlines are changing. Rising sea levels, flooding, coastal erosion and climate change all pose immense risks to our cities. The consequences appear devastating; with worst-case scenarios that predict the potential for ecological, cultural, social and economic collapse – with no clear solution in sight.

But the Australian construction industry and the built environment itself can help. As a significant contributor to the country’s wealth and employment, our industry has a serendipitous opportunity to make substantial impacts on carbon emissions and economic stability.

Taking the country’s climate pulse check

To understand what action is happening today and how we can better prepare for the future, we took a pulse check around the nation. We found:

  • In South Australia, four local councils have partnered to address the effects of climate change along their shared metropolitan coastline. Known as Resilient South, the partnership has produced initiatives such as 3D mapping, with the collective power to work across federal, state, local government and NGOs, rather than adopting individual climate plans.

  • In the Torres Strait, low-lying island communities of about 7,000 people are facing substantial climate threat in the medium to long term, due to coastal erosion and flooding. The Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) is attempting to understand these risks, working with the Traditional Owners, councils and organisations, such as seawall construction. However, funding, resources, institutional and legal frameworks are complex and inhibiting action.

  • In Queensland, the Brisbane City Council has outlined its wish for better land use planning, smarter building design and suitability of future projects, to manage the ongoing threat of water disasters and hazards. The interactive tools as part of the plan suggest the council and Queensland government understand and empower locals to adapt, reduce risk and minimise the economic implications of flooding events.

  • In Darwin, coastal erosion is the most significant risk with coastlines estimated to have eroded about 30cm each year over the past 30 years. The City of Darwin has developed its Climate Change Action Plan providing actions and goals for its council and community, within the broader framework of the Northern Territory government. The council also works with the Department of Defence and the Larrakia Nation, acting as managers for the coastal regions.

Adopting holistic methodologies to drive change

While it’s encouraging to see national and global contextual examples, we believe that future impact must go further. Starting with education – we can’t continue to depend on traditional education and literacy to create scalable solutions, we need futurist thinking with specialist SMEs, research-led practice in the industry and multidisciplinary courses at university to blur the distinction between study and real-world practice. Universities are vital and partnerships are essential – a ‘communities-of-practice’ approach and intelligence-sharing ecosystem between universities, industry and government could create stronger learning and change outcomes.

Next, our study emphasises the urgent need for a coordinated national framework. With enhanced dialogue, interactions and joint action at the local and regional levels, we can engage our local communities, and reduce the gaps and overlays between them while also establishing collaborative responsibilities between national and local government agencies and policymakers.

Finally, we recommend a city-scale, industry-led master plan and research venture. This ambitious initiative seeks to envision Australian city futures across extended time scales, ensuring that adaptation strategies are forward-thinking and capable of withstanding the evolving challenges of RFCC.

Creating more resilient and sustainable cities for tomorrow is one of the most complex challenges we face today. But by equipping not only our students and universities but our industry, government and policymakers more holistically and collaboratively, we can all become proactive agents of change for a brighter future.

Read the latest research here:

Did you enjoy this article?