04/06/2008 - 22:00

Climate change may affect approvals

04/06/2008 - 22:00

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Businesses could be faced with an added layer of environmental assessment when planning new developments and projects to take into consideration the effects of climate change.

Climate change may affect approvals

Businesses could be faced with an added layer of environmental assessment when planning new developments and projects to take into consideration the effects of climate change.

While it has become customary for business to consider how new developments might contribute to climate change, such as greenhouse gas emissions, climate change might also affect the ability for certain projects to receive development approval.

In a recent case, Walker v Minister for Planning, a challenge by a resident over a proposed sub-division and retirement village development on the NSW coast was successful on the grounds that the minister failed to consider climate change flood risk for the project when determining approval.

If an appeal to be heard in July is successful, it could potentially set a precedent by requiring developers to address the affects of climate change in the planning stages through to the project approval process.

Potential impacts from climate change that developers may need to take into consideration could include increased frequency of extreme weather events, such as drought, fire and flooding, and the potential for considerable damage to low-lying coastal settlements and infrastructure.

Michael Voros, Freehills solicitor in the environment and planning group, said planners and developers should already be taking into consideration coastal setbacks to allow for rising sea levels due to climate change.

He said the Western Australian Planning Commission had established guidelines with consideration given to advice from the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which predicts a rise in sea levels of 0.38 metres this century.

This requires a buffer of about 38 metres from shoreline to development.

Mr Voros said not only could such requirements place restrictions on approvals, they may leave developers open to potential liability for damage done to a property from future sea level rises.

He said that, in some cases, local authorities had been sued for failing to take into consideration future flood damage

"So it's not just in the ability to gain planning approval but also the potential liability risks down the track," Mr Voros told WA Business News. "It's a bit of a Pandora's box."

Other potential environmental requirements that may be imposed on industry could include an assessment of not just a project's direct greenhouse emissions, but also emissions resulting from downstream activities.

But certainty as to the future of environmental approvals remains up in the air until the design of the national emissions trading scheme is released.

Industry is calling for the ETS, which will put a price on carbon, to be the centerpiece of the country's response to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, removing the need for so-called complementary measures.

This could mean the carbon price would act as the central mechanism for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, potentially overriding other requirements under the environmental approvals process.

The draft Garnaut report, the federal government's green paper and the Wilkins review into possible complementary measures to work alongside an ETS will all be released next month and are expected to provide greater clarity for business.

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