The Regional Impacts of Climate Change

Other reports in this collection Coastal Infrastructure and Human Impacts

The vast majority of the population and infrastructure of both Australia and New Zealand lies in the coastal zone (Resources Assessment Commission, 1993; Zann, 1995). Thus, potential damage to coastal settlements and infrastructure from rising sea level, coupled with possibly increased storminess and more intense flooding events, is a major concern in view of the magnitude of capital investment (IPCC 1996, WG II, Section 12.3.4) and the nature and potential cost of adaptation options. The exposure of such areas is increasing as coastal populations continue to grow. Ports, harbors, and low-lying tourism and recreational developments such as beach resorts and marinas are most at risk.

Shipping and offshore oil and gas facilities in Australia's Bass Strait and NorthWest Shelf and off New Zealand's Taranaki coast are exposed to any increased storminess. Populated areas already are vulnerable to pollution from human activity of terrestrial and marine origin, including sewage wastes, industrial wastes, agricultural runoff, oil spills, and ballast water discharge (Zann, 1995). Changes in weather patterns, especially if accompanied by increased intensity of rainfall or increased frequency of damaging storms, and sea-level rise could increase the risk and magnitude of pollution events.

Vulnerable inhabited Australian islands include the Cocos (Keeling) Islands (Jacobson, 1976); Millingimby in the Northern Territory; and Boigu, Saibai, Masig, Poruma, and Waraber Islands in the Torres Strait (Mulrennan, 1992). Boigu and Saibai are low mud islands, the second of which suffered flooding during exceptional high tides in the 1940s; Masig, Poruma, and Waraber are low coral cays subject to active erosion and dune development.

In the tropical Pacific, New Zealand has responsibility for Tokelau, a populated atoll group, and constitutional ties with Niue and the Cook Islands. Potential impacts of climate change for such small islands are elaborated in Chapter 9 of this report; impacts for Tokelau are considered in Hooper (1990). Tropical cyclones or other severe weather events, even if unchanged, superimposed on rising sea levels may progressively stress the habitability of the Pacific islands and lead to impacts on New Zealand with respect to emergency disaster responses and migration.

Coastal areas and estuaries have particular importance to Maori (indigenous people of New Zealand) (Fraser, 1990), and much Maori land and economic enterprise is on or near low-lying areas. Coastal seafood is of immense cultural value and is important as an economic resource and for recreation. Land is the principal element of iwi (tribal/family) identity; together with coasts, rivers, and forests, it is central to the cultural, spiritual, and economic life of Maori. Detailed impact studies are not available, but any loss or damage to traditional land, sacred ancestral or archaeological sites, or food-gathering areas and other natural resources over which Maori have traditional domain would have large ramifications for the Maori (Fraser, 1990).


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