Stories—

Sunshine Coast

The Sunshine Coast Local Government Area (LGA) in Queensland is a biodiversity hotspot, home to many vulnerable and endemic species. It is a diverse region, providing a vibrant tourist destination while also home to a successful agricultural sector. In recent years, moves to increase the resilience levels of the LGA have begun to be implemented by the Sunshine Coast Council. Such moves towards greater resilience are largely in response to concerns regarding the effects of climate change and the potential for reaching peak oil in the near future. 

According to an interviewee, any effective response to such issues involves a combination of leadership, mitigation, adaptation and the transition to new forms of energy production and usage. Such efforts are intended to enhance the LGA’s preparedness through improving the integration of climate change awareness across the organisation and throughout the community. Both an interviewee and the 2017 Environment and Liveability Strategy state that increased resilience will allow the LGA to ‘bounce forward’ in the face of adversity as opposed to bouncing back in the aftermath of negative experiences. 

An important element in the Sunshine Coast Council’s moves towards a more resilient future has been the development of significant solar resources in the LGA. In a bid to change their energy use dynamic and ultimately transition to renewable power, a fifteen megawatt solar farm has been built in the LGA, with further solar resources installed on existing Council sites. As the Council notes, the LGA is already home to approximately 40,000 rooftop solar systems on private residences. 

These measures have seen the Sunshine Coast Council become the first local government in Australia to conceive and implement a solar based energy system that was designed to, and ultimately has, offset all of the electricity that the Council uses in its operations and facilities. Not only does this development reduce the emissions footprint of the Council, rigorous economic analysis revealed that it would result in $22 million of savings over 30 years based on current energy prices. Such economic benefits were complemented by the employment provided to local industries in the construction of the project. 

In order to make the most educated decisions for their region, the Sunshine Coast Council has consulted the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). This consultation elicited information on the latest climate change science, the history of the area’s climate and projections for what the Sunshine Coast could expect in the future. However, the accumulation of such information requires significant funding, with limits to the ability of local government to access such external consultation. 

The Council has also fostered relationships with the University of the Sunshine Coast, with interest in expanding this arrangement to other educational institutions. An interviewee suggested that such knowledge sharing was valuable as it allows information to be seen through a different lens, raising the possibility that new ideas can be formed. 

A central area of concern for the Sunshine Coast Council under current climate change modelling is the effects that rising sea levels and more extreme storm surges will have on vulnerable areas along the 100-kilometre coast of the LGA. According to the Council’s Shoreline Erosion Management Plan (SEMP), such changes have the potential to result in the inundation of low lying coastal land and increased erosion, putting at risk land, beaches, open space, roads, paths, buildings and other facilities. The Sunshine Coast’s approach to such issues stems from the Queensland government’s Coastal Plan, which outlines how the state intends to tackle potentially damaging developments. According to an interviewee, there are three main approaches that can be taken by the Council in the face of increasing coastal vulnerability, defend, adapt or retreat. 

Given the continued desirability of land that is increasingly vulnerable to inundation, an interviewee noted that stricter development guidelines would become necessary. This could include the construction of sea defences, with responsibility for their maintenance already a point of contention in the LGA. Examples were given by an interviewee of the problems surrounding measures designed to combat coastal threats, citing the inundation of residential areas that sat below sea defences such as raised footpaths when extreme storm surges occurred. Sea walls and groynes have been erected along stretches of the Sunshine Coast, however constant structure repair and beach renourishment still has to be carried out to maintain the status quo. According to an interviewee, although there is a growing necessity, there would be resistance to the introduction of more stringent building requirements within the industry, citing the extra costs that would be incurred. 

Such awareness underscores the importance that the Council places on economic growth, with the LGA aiming to make climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies innovative and effective while also creating jobs in the region.  

A respondent noted that in recent years, local governments have taken on, or been given, responsibility for additional aspects of their community’s governance. In the case of Sunshine Coast this has led to the creation and implementation of an in-depth planning scheme. This scheme is comprised of 6 strategies covering affordable living, biodiversity, waterways, wetlands, coastal management and open spaces. According to an interviewee, given the changes that have taken place in the LGA over recent years, there are efforts underway to combine and streamline strategies so that they are easier to implement. 

Under a new approach, preference will be given to the promotion of sustainable individual choices, climate resilience, disaster resilience and adapting to changes. This approach would see any gaps in social and economic schemes addressed in a way that would incorporate climate change. In order for these to be effective, the interviewee noted that it was important for Council to put governance systems in place. 

As stated by a research participant, the long-term nature of climate change and the actions that are needed to address it conflict with the three-year local government election cycle, making it difficult to implement measures that will improve the resilience of the area. This differential is not unique to local government, with state and federal governments often unable to introduce processes that will last in their intended form beyond the next electoral cycle. The interviewee spoken to suggested that the frequent change in leadership of the Council meant that there was the potential for impetus to be lost and uncertainty created. The Sunshine Coast Council faced further challenges in its de-amalgamation from Noosa in 2014, which led to a period of uncertainty as some councillors were lost and the direction of future councillors was unclear in the face of continued climate instability. An interviewee noted that preceding the de-amalgamation, the Council had been dedicated to pursuing green initiatives, with the creation of separate entities necessitating reassessment. Ultimately differences between the agendas of successive governments, local, state and federal, will need to be addressed if climate change is to be successfully confronted. An example of how this could has already been done by the Council can be seen in the creation of the Sunshine Coast Waterways and Coastal Management Strategy which has enabled cooperative relationships to be formed and maintained between the Council, state government and community, 

Like many other coastal LGAs, the Sunshine Coast Council is facing increasing challenges as the effects of climate change become more apparent. It is clear that efforts are being made by the Council to ascertain how they can address such problems while also maintaining the economic health of their region.