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Sea Level Fears Stop Coastal Development in Australia

Climate change has become a tool used by Australian planners. Officials say the residential plan at Port Fairy in Victoria will not go ahead because of safety concerns about storm surges and possible inundation from rising ocean levels.

Victoria's state government has rejected plans to build homes on sand dunes at Port Fairy, 300 kilometers west of Melbourne, because of threats posed by climate change. The decision was based on a projection that sea levels will rise by 80 centimeters, in the next century.

Officials have said the area is also at risk from erosion and storm surges. State authorities have set up a multi-million dollar fund to help coastal regions in southern Australia adapt to the challenges that could lie ahead.

Port Fairy Mayor James Purcell says allowing houses and apartments to be built on such a vulnerable strip of land would have been irresponsible.

"It could certainly be an issue where you could consider that there may be some loss of life or certainly a difficulty in saving people," Purcell said. "So that would be the main concern from a safety point of view, because this piece of land has two issues. One is that it backs onto an area which is the Moyne River, which could be subject to flooding and also on the other side of it is actually the ocean which could be subject to inundation."

Mayor Purcell believes the decision to reject the coastal development is likely to shape the way applications for other seaside projects are handled around Australia.

In another council area, southeast of Melbourne, officials have put on hold all requests to build on land that could be threatened by rising sea levels.

Further north, on Queensland's Gold Coast, a company constructing a new apartment block on low-lying ground was ordered to install emergency moorings for rescue boats on the building's first floor because of concerns about the possible impact of climate change.

The issue of global warming has divided society in Australia, one of the world's worst per capita emitters of greenhouses gases, which some scientists blame for rising temperatures and sea levels.

Skeptics doubt that man-made pollution is capable of significantly destabilizing the Earth's climate, while conservationists insist that man's excessive use of fossil fuels is making the planet warmer.

Researchers have warned that the Australian continent will suffer the effects of climate change, with more severe droughts, storms and floods as well as experiencing sea level rises in decades to come.