Where adaptation pathways and politics meet: coastal erosion and adaptation planning in Old Bar, Australia

14:00 Tuesday 28 May


Room S16


Sonia Graham (Spain) 1

1 - Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona

Sea-level rise is one of the most certain impacts of climate change. By 2050, it is predicted that 350 million people will be at risk of coastal flooding. It is therefore imperative that local communities plan for the future to minimise the consequences of such flooding and other predicted climate change impacts, such as more frequent and severe storm surges. While local authorities have begun developing local coastal adaptation plans, researchers have proposed various adaptation planning processes that are grounded, collaborative and equitable. For example, the ‘adaptation pathways approach’ advocates for a process that is done at a pace and scale that reflects local community experiences of environmental change, that builds consensus among diverse actors, and that does not exacerbate existing social inequalities. The aim of this study is to provide a critical analysis of adaptation planning in a coastal community in Australia, and identify the opportunities and challenges to implementing an adaptation pathways approach.

Old Bar Beach, approximately 300 km north of Sydney, Australia, provides an ideal case to evaluate coastal adaptation planning processes. Old Bar Beach has experienced significant coastal erosion„four meters per year„and has been the focus of multiple coastal zone management plans. In 2011, the local council developed a planned retreat strategy, however, the state government refused to approve that and subsequent adaptation plans. In 2017, the local council merged with two other councils. Thus, this study comes at a time when there is renewed interest in developing and finalizing an adaptation plan that is acceptable to the local community, local and state governments.

Thirty-five semi-structured interviews were undertaken with council staff as well as residents of Old Bar, and the nearby communities of Wallabi Point and Manning Point. The results of the interviews reveal that an adaptation tipping point occurred in 2008, when three houses had to be demolished. This trigger resulted in a local community action group being formed. While there is consensus among the community and local council staff of the need for an adaptation plan, the solutions proposed by the local action group, and the consultant they hired, is at odds with the various solutions proposed by the local and state governments. This case reveals the challenges of simultaneously achieving community acceptance and government support. Such political realities are often overlooked in descriptions of the adaptation pathways approach and suggests that more attention needs to be paid to the politics of climate adaptation.