Coastal Erosion

Coastal Erosion and Climate Change by Ben Woods

In early August 2021 the Covid-19 crisis was briefly knocked off the front pages of the world’s newspapers when the sixth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) was released. As dreadful as the Covid pandemic has been on so many fronts, it pales in comparison to the climate crisis. The report notes that our planet is a mere decade away from global temperatures 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. Furthermore, we are on track for 3 degrees of warming in the long term. The extreme weather and permanent climate change this would bring would have devastating consequences. One of these would be a refugee crisis in low-lying, flood-prone countries such as Bangladesh – a country of 163 million people. It is easy to imagine how millions of refugees will add to worldwide social and economic problems.

The report suggests that unless there is an immediate global concerted effort, Australia can look forward to a future of regular extreme events like the bushfires of 2019–20 and droughts so bad that agriculture will no longer be viable in some areas. It is clear that Australia must prepare for:

  • increased heavy rainfall, floods, sand storms and dust storms
  • an increase in the intensity, frequency and duration of fire seasons
  • a continuing decrease in snow cover and depth
  • more coastal flooding as sea levels continue to rise.

The last point is my focus here. The Sutherland Shire has stunning beaches and waterways. From the beaches of Bate Bay to the Hacking River and its various nooks and crannies, there are many natural wonders for residents of the Shire to enjoy. Many businesses also rely, directly and indirectly, on the natural environment, among them the retail outlets supplying clothing and equipment for beach and maritime activities.

The Greens believe that the climate crises and environmental problems more broadly cannot be properly addressed without a reckoning with big business in control of energy, transport, agriculture and construction. But at a local level, there are good reasons to elect Greens to the Shire Council. As the only party that doesn’t take money from developers, we are the only party that will prioritise the needs of residents and the environment.

Published studies on the effects of climate change–induced sea level rise on Sydney and other NSW beaches are a stark warning for Cronulla beaches (see the Climate Council’s “Icons at Risk Report” below). Low-lying waterfront areas such as Bonnet Bay and Oyster Bay are also at severe risk.

A report by the Labor Environment Action Network, using Oz Coast mapping of predicted sea level rise due to climate change, shows nine sports grounds in the Shire could be lost under water. These include the Gwawley East, Gwawley West and Gwawley North grounds at Taren Point, the athletics track at Forshaw Field, part of Kareela Golf Course and Lakewood City at Bonnet Bay.

Is there a bigger sport-loving area of Sydney than the Sutherland Shire? It’s a good question but a better one is what are the major parties doing about climate change? Neither have committed to eliminating fossil fuels as soon as possible, something the IPCC report makes clear is a must.

While it is most important to elect Greens to state and federal parliaments in order to address the structural causes of climate change and environmental degradation, there is a lot that the Greens can do at a local council level. Because we don’t rely on funds from developers, we are unimpeded from making sure that coastal areas are protected. We can prioritise green space and ongoing protection of wetlands and coastal areas and we can ensure that council buildings and public infrastructure under our control are as close to carbon neutral as possible.