Perceptions of the readiness and preparation of South Australian local coastal councils to cope with sea level rise

Author: Nicholas Thomola

Thomola, Nicholas, 2018 Perceptions of the readiness and preparation of South Australian local coastal councils to cope with sea level rise, Flinders University, College of Science and Engineering

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Human induced emissions are driving unprecedented changes in today’s climate systems. These changes in climate conditions have accelerated the rise in sea level with projected impacts that threaten the existence of coastal communities and infrastructure. Policy and decision making, which is critical for the sustainability of coastal communities, lies with local councils. The level of preparedness and readiness of coastal councils to adapt to SLR is an important dimension of coast management. Mayors and council employees in coastal councils carry the responsibility of making decisions to address adaptation measures to SLR, hence their perceptions can impact on the decisions that drive the preparedness and readiness of coastal councils to adapt to SLR. Divergent perceptions between these decision makers may deter efforts and support for policies and strategies for addressing SLR and its impacts.

The principal aims of this study is to establish how Mayors and Council employees, as policy and decision makers at local level, perceive Local Government preparedness for SLR in South Australia. The study further establishes if there are any perception differences between Mayors and Council employees on SLR as well as their level of satisfaction with Councils’ preparedness for SLR. To this end, the research question is outlined as: How do Mayors and Council employees of South Australia coastal councils perceive risk of SLR and councils’ preparedness to adapt to impacts from the rising sea level?

An online survey was conducted involving 34 Mayors and 117 Council employees from 10 regions of South Australia’s coastal councils to get insights on their perceptions on coastal councils’ preparedness and readiness for SLR. The results from the survey reveal that Mayors and Council employees view coastal councils as ill-prepared for the projected SLR and its impacts despite the prevalence of institutional structure and a good level of understanding of SLR. The impacts from SLR are considered as part of the undetectable coastal climate change hazards hence driving insufficient concern from the coastal decision makers. Furthermore, coastal councils are plagued with an array of challenges in their quest to prepare to adapt to SLR with some challenges perceived as driven by external factors while some are presumably influenced by perception differences between policy and decision makers in local councils.

This research recommends an engagement between the three tiers of Governments to ensure a consistent understanding and systematic approach to dealing with the impacts of SLR by the different council areas. A detailed SLR impacts and risk- based information paper should be developed by councils to improve Mayors’ and other elected members’ understanding of SLR issues. Further research could be undertaken to identify regional or council-specific challenges against the perceived level of preparedness so as to develop pertinent interventions that could be employed to enhance regional or councils’ progress to adapting to SLR.

Keywords: Sea level rise, Coastal managemnet, Mayors, Council employees, local councils, South Australia, preparedness.

Subject: Environmental management thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2018
School: College of Science and Engineering
Supervisor: Associate Professor Beverley Clarke