Climate of change to debate our future

OPINION

The Illawarra will host two conferences this week with potentially significant consequences for the region.

Kiama Municipal Council will host the 21st NSW Coastal Conference at the town from Tuesday to Friday.

Meanwhile, Regional Development Australia – Illawarra and the University of Wollongong (UOW) will host the inaugural Illawarra Futures Symposium at the Innovation Campus on Thursday and Friday.

The Coastal Conference at Kiama will bring together representatives from coastal councils such as town planners and engineers,  coastal and environmental scientists, climate change and sea level experts, community consultation consultants, lifesavers, fisheries experts, indigenous communities  and others with a professional or community interest in how the state’s coastline is managed. 

An important backdrop to the conference will be the state government’s announcement in September of  changes to the way the NSW coastline will be managed in the future. The O’Farrell government has effectively rejected the former Labor government’s 2009 NSW Sea Level Rise Policy, thereby removing its recommendation of state-wide sea level rise planning benchmarks.

The government says the changes ‘‘provide greater flexibility to consider local conditions when determining future hazards and preparing coastal zone management plans’’ and ‘‘support local councils in adopting sea level rise projections relevant to their local area’’. 

It also says the changes will make it easier for coastal landowners to install temporary works to reduce the impact of erosion on their properties – a measure no doubt welcomed by those northern NSW residents who have been forced to go to court to win the right to protect their beachfront properties from storm seas.

The government’s stance is an important game-changer that  effectively puts the onus firmly back on local councils to manage their own coastal lands issues.

 That has important implications for future planning in the Illawarra, where so many residential and commercial properties are close to beaches, lakes and estuaries.

The focus of the Illawarra Futures Symposium is also highly relevant. 

It seeks to look at how Wollongong and the Illawarra region is likely to evolve economically and socially over the next four decades to 2050.

Will we make a smooth transition from the coalmining and heavy manufacturing that has been underpinning the regional economy for so long, into the ‘‘knowledge economy’’ jobs of the digital age?

Federal Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Senator Stephen Conroy and NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell head a strong line-up of speakers who will discuss a range of topics including new opportunities in ‘‘green jobs’’ and sustainable manufacturing, social transformation and tourism innovation.

Not surprisingly, both conferences have one topic in common – climate change, its likely effect on our future, and how we deal with it. 

Should be a fascinating week.

Nick Hartgerink is a former Mercury editor who now runs his own communications consultancy. UOW is a client and he will be MC at the Coastal Conference.

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