River levels could become a major problem for Perth in the new century
by Sarah-Jane Aston
A Perth climate change expert says there needs to be more discussion about the steps being taken to combat Perth’s rising sea levels.
UWA Professor Ray Wills, who also runs advisory firm Future Smart Strategies, says sea walls along the Swan River are being rebuilt because of rising sea levels and anyone who claims it is just a refurbishment does not understand the issue.
With sea levels expected to rise one metre by 2100, the climate change expert says anything not built above that level is not made for this century.
Professor Wills says that while there are risks to homes and roads in an engineering sense, planning have been fairly well managed, with adjustments to regulations revising the previously predicted 39cm rise to 100cm.
“These things do happen officially,” says Professor Wills, who advises UWA on sustainability issues.
“But very often the message that we are already adapting to climate change is missed.
“We don’t talk about it. No conversation. No inclusion, the message gets lost.”
Professor Wills, with more than 30 years climate change experience says while many city councils, such as City of South Perth, are adapting to face the challenges of rising water levels in the Swan River, they aren’t acknowledging the reason.
“From some points of view, we are well aware there are sections of the community and in government that don’t accept climate change is real,” says Professor Wills.
“Planners and administration are reluctant to include that in the message.
“It’s easier to remain quiet. Life is simpler if they just say we’re fixing the sea wall.”
According to the Department of Environment, the rate of rising sea levels has also increased.
In the previous century it was 1.7mm per year but has now hit up to 3.2mm per year.
Professor Wills says that adaptation and mitigation are our only options for managing the risks.
“In an environmental sense all we can do is combat emissions and climate change,” he says.
“Adaption means accepting climate change will happen and we must plan and prepare.
“We will have to increase planning codes and insure engineering and construction regulations are sufficient,” he says.
Professor Wills said the problem was a threat on multiple levels and needed to be addressed locally as well as at state and Federal levels.
The walls are being renovated and raised to protect against changing sea levels.
The Mends Street jetty is one structure that may be at risk.
The City of South Perth has been planning the Foreshore development since 2013.
Low beaches such as this will be a weak point in the future, says Professor Ray Wills.
The original South Perth Sea Wall.
New infrastructure such as Elizabeth Quay development have been engineered with higher sea levels in mind.