SEA levels on Australia's eastern seaboard are rising at less than a third of the rate that the New South Wales Government is predicting as it overhauls the state's planning laws and bans thousands of landowners from developing coastal sites. The Rees Government this week warned that coastal waters would rise 40cm on 1990 levels by 2050, with potentially disastrous effects. Even yesterday Kevin Rudd warned in a speech to the Lowy Institute that 700,000 homes and businesses, valued at up to $150 billion, were at risk from the surging tide.
However, if current sea-level rises continue, it would not be until about 2200 - another 191 years - before the east coast experienced the kind of increases that have been flagged. According to the most recent report by the Bureau of Meteorology's National Tidal Centre, issued in June, there has been an average yearly increase of 1.9mm in the combined net rate of relative sea level at Port Kembla, south of Sydney, since the station was installed in 1991. This is consistent with historical analysis showing that, throughout the 20th century, there was a modest rise in global sea levels of about 20cm, or 1.7mm per year on average.
By comparison, the NSW Government's projections - based on global modelling by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as well as CSIRO regional analysis - equate to a future rise of about 6.6mm a year. Such a projection has caused widespread concern for landowners and developers, derision from "climate sceptics" within the scientific community and even some head-scratching from Wollongong locals such as Kevin Court, 80.
"I have swum at this beach every day for the past 50 years, and nothing much changes here," Mr Court said yesterday as he emerged from the surf at Wollongong's North Beach, just a short paddle from the Port Kembla gauging station. "All this talk about rising sea levels - most of us old-timers haven't seen any change and we've been coming down here for decades. "A few years ago part of the bank at the back of the beach was eroded. But you look at it now, and all the grass has grown back over it. The water hasn't washed back there for years. "And that's nature. It's up and down, it comes and goes in cycles - nothing dramatic."
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