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The Australian Coastal Zone and Global Change: Research Needs

Australian Academy of Science, Becker House, Canberra. Friday 16 December 1994

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): coastal zones and small islands: an update

Professor Roger McLean

Thanks, Graham. Well, good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I hope to see our colleague, Colin Woodroffe, over the weekend or certainly during next week. It is a very great pleasure for me to be associated with this day that Colin and Gerry Morvell got together.

Early in the 1980s there was great concern about the greenhouse effect and climate change stimulated by the first World Climate Conference of 1979 and the formulation of the World Climate Program, between the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). In the mid-1980s there were the two Villach conferences. In 1988 the ratification of the Montreal Protocol took place in Toronto. That of course was related to ozone reductions and reducing emissions of carbon dioxide.

At the same time in Australia many of you would have attended the Greenhouse '87 Conference: Planning for Climate Change. Also, in 1987 the Commonwealth - that is, the old British Commonwealth - Heads of Government in Vancouver met and formed an expert group to 'Examine and report on climate change, sea level rise and flooding'. In 1988-89 the Commonwealth Secretariat in London commissioned five studies to look at the problem: there were studies of Bangladesh, Guyana, the Maldives, Tongatapu (Tonga) and Kiribati. Colin Woodroffe was indirectly associated with the Maldives study and myself with Kiribati for the Commonwealth Secretariat. Their consolidated report was published in September 1989.

Later in 1989 there was the Small States Conference on Sea-level Rise, sponsored by the Republic of Maldives Government and held at Malé in the Maldives. That resulted in the Maldives Declaration on Sea-level Rise and, most significantly from an international point of view, the formation of the Alliance of Small Island States, AOSIS. AOSIS has been a very active political voice in the international scene at IPCC level, in the United Nations Environment Program and, most significantly, in the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. It has drawn the world's attention to questions of climate change and sea-level rise, with particular reference to the plight of small island states. Another outcome of the AOSIS work was the April 1994 Sustainable Development of Small Island States Conference held in Barbados.

Now, I mention these things in part as background to what I want to get on to, and this is about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: (IPCC). I was at a recent meeting of IPCC's Working Group Two and it surprised me how many times people spoke about the International Panel on Climate Change, rather than the Intergovernmental Panel. IPCC is in fact a governmental instrumentality - intergovernmental. It was formed in 1988 by WMO and UNEP, I think to get some science into some of the exaggerated predictions that were going on at the time and to report to WMO and UNEP on three specific tasks.

Overhead 1


Those tasks are identified here in Overhead 1: to assess the scientific information related to climate change issues, to evaluate the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of climate change and to formulate realistic response strategies for the management of the greenhouse effect. Three working groups were set up. The one of relevance as far as the coastal zone is concerned was the Response Strategies Working Group.

The response strategies area was the initial emphasis for the coastal zone and ocean section of the First Assessment Report (FAR) which was produced in 1990. Australia had a major hand in the production of the FAR (refer Overhead 2). This was the impacts assessment. The basic chapter on coastal zones included both coasts and oceans. The relevant chapter in the FAR produced here in Australia and was based on two conferences: one in Perth and one in Miami in 1989.

OH 2: first assessment report

Overhead 2

In March 1991 the IPCC asked the Coastal Zone Management Strategy group (CZMS), to contribute to the 1992 Supplement to the 1990 Assessment. What they were asked to do was to develop and draft guidelines and a common methodology in preparation for national inventories. A workshop was held at Margarita Island in Venezuela. The results of that workshop in fact have just been published (refer Overhead 3). Perhaps one or two of you here may have attended that meeting. The important thing to come from that was in fact the Purple Report on Global Climate Change and the Rising Challenge of the Sea. It was that document that was taken to the Earth Summit in Rio in June of 1992 and which became a basis for the UNCED Agenda 21, Chapter 17, dealing with oceans and coasts.

OH 3a: global climate change and the rising challenge of the sea

Overhead 3a

Overhead 3b


One of the things that emerged from these documents was the development of a common methodology - a seven-step methodology - dealing with vulnerability assessment of coastal areas. Some of you in this room will know the seven steps associated with the common methodology and the critiques that have occurred as a result of several meetings about it. This methodology has, however, been applied in several small-island and deltaic situations and on continental shores. The steps involved in the methodology include: the delineation of the case study area, an inventory - both physical and biological - of the study area characteristics, development factors, physical changes to the natural system, response strategies, the development of a vulnerability profile, and identifying further needs and actions.

Now, vulnerability assessment case studies were undertaken in these areas (refer Overhead 4). Forty-six case studies were completed, or partially completed, by the start of this year.

Overhead 5


Antigua Argentina
Australia Cocos Islands Australia Geographe Bay
Kiribati Belize
Maldives Benin
Marshall Islands Brazil
Mauritius Cuba
Moorea England and Wales
Nevis East Anglia
Seychelles England and Wales
Tonga Tongatapu Is. South Coast
France Rochefort
Indian Orissa
Bangladesh Mexico Rio Lagasrtos
China Nicaragua
China Bohai Bay Nigeria
China Huanghe Delta Peru
China Laizhou Poland
Egypt Senegal
India West Bengal Turkmenistan
Netherlands, the Uruguay
Nigeria USA
Vietnam Red River Venuzuela

Obviously, some of these were associated with Australian workers including the Cocos-Keeling Islands out in the Indian Ocean and Geographe Bay in Western Australia. The results of all of those studies have been published in two volumes: the first from a workshop held for the Western Hemisphere nations in New Orleans and the second from an Eastern Hemisphere workshop held in Japan last year (1993). These became preparatory conferences for what was an IPCC-associated conference, the World Coast Conference, the cover of which shown is here (bottom Overhead 5).

OH 5: vulnerability assessment to sea level rise and coastal zone management

Overhead 5