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Environment

Australians to fortify coast homes against climate

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australians living beside some of the country’s finest beaches will be allowed to fortify their beachfront homes against rising seas and storms, as climate change increasingly threatens the heavily-populated east coast.

A surfer leaves Collaroy beach next to the stairs of a multi-million dollar beachfront property in Sydney August 17, 2009. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz

Many Australians live within a short car-ride of the coast and are feeling the impact of more frequent storms blamed in part on global warming, prompting national soul-searching over whether to adopt a “retreat or defend” approach to beach living.

Environmentalists fear widespread coastal defenses could scar beaches and cause massive erosion, as the movement of sand is blocked by concrete and stone barriers.

But the government in New South Wales (NSW) state, home to a third of the country’s 22 million population, said it would override local planning and allow coastal fortification, with appropriate environmental safeguards.

“It’s not just, ‘I’ll build a wall’, it’ll protect me and I’ll be right mate,” Simon Smith, the Deputy Director of the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change, told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.

Scientists say Australia is experiencing “accelerated climate change” because of its dry climate, resulting in more frequent storms, droughts and estimated average temperature rises of between 1.4 to 5.8 degrees Celsius by 2100.

It is estimated that over 700,000 coastal properties in Australia are threatened by rising sea levels, with coastal flooding and erosion costing NSW A$200 million a year.

The NSW government said it would list 19 “hot spot” beaches where waterfront homes were at risk from rising sea levels, including several along Sydney’s upmarket northern coast, where the popular television series “Home and Away” was largely filmed.

Property owners in those areas would be given more rights to construct sea walls and barriers, with the state government appointing itself as final judge over any barrier plans rejected by local councils.

The plan would also target the famous resort town of Byron Bay and the nearby international surfing mecca of Lennox Head, after legal wrangles between coastal homeowners and the council.

Reporting by Jehane Sharah; Editing by Rob Taylor and Bill Tarrant

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