Climate action by empowering people

Climate action by empowering people



Sea-level rise is a significant concern for Australia with about half the population living within 7km of the coast, and a significant amount of industry and infrastructure valued in the billions of dollars located in the coastal zone. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) current projections suggest that mean sea-level is likely to rise by more than 1m by 2100. With this heightened risk of extreme weather events and storm surges is an increasing risk to communities and infrastructure in coastal areas. 
In 2007, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) identified as a national priority the need for a fit-for-purpose coastal digital elevation model (DEM) to assess the potential impacts of rising sea levels. The Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRCSI) led the development of the National Elevation Data Framework (NEDF) through a partnership with the Australia and New Zealand Land Information Council (ANZLIC), the Commonwealth Department of Environment and Geoscience Australia (GA).
To develop the DEM, the CRCSI worked with partnering agencies to access LiDAR data from six government agencies with Geoscience Australia taking the lead to process and provide whole of government access to high resolution evaluation data for the priority coastal areas of Australia. This work closed the gap between existing land and sea datasets.

The biggest challenge in the development of the DEM tools was the ability to singularly process, integrate and manage huge volumes of Big Data whilst developing an open access tool that coastal communities and government agencies can readily and easily use.
By partnering with NGIS Australia and Google, the CRCSI and Geoscience Australia were able to overcome the big data issue by using the latest cloud-computing technologies. The result is the Australian Coastal Risk Dashboard [] to be released this month. This consumer driven dashboard allows anyone to type in an address and see the potential area in their coastal suburb that might be affected by sea-level rise over the next century, or the potential impact of a storm surge tomorrow.
The Australian UDEM is the largest seamless dataset of its type in the world, with over 230 individual airborne surveys covering Australia’s populated coastal and floodplain areas and built upon eight years of collaboration and investment.

195 people from 95 organizations worked together to map sea-level rise in the Pacific Islands and understand the risk and impact on coastal communities           


The benefit 

Spatial technologies have enabled accurate modelling to inform coastal communities, government agencies and natural resource managers where action can occur today to modify the impact of climate change in these areas along with preparing communities for future hazards. Taking the expertise of the Australian UDEM work, the CRCSI led the project Pacific Islands Coastal Inundation Capacity Building Project (
building) with funding through the Department of the Environment and in partnership with UDEM collaborators, NGIS Australia.
The project team worked with Pacific Island governments in Tonga, Samoa, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu to capture detailed digital elevation data for the analysis of sea-level rise impact. LiDAR data was used to update digital elevation models. These models allowed the creation of coastal inundation models that provide a risk assessment of priority coastal areas at the required village and island scale. The risk assessment identified more than 10,000 buildings as ‘at high risk’ of coastal inundation within 80 years, including schools, hospitals and critical infrastructure.
By the time the project was completed in 2014, 195 people from 95 organizations — a range of government and local agencies in the Pacific Islands — received training on the coastal inundation models and analysis of the risk maps. These agencies now have the tools to understand and communicate climate change risk to local communities and put adaptation plans in place.
Of the four Pacific Islands involved in this project, Vanuatu was the first country in the Pacific to support an open data policy. This enabled us to use Google Earth as a platform, to develop the Vanuatu Globe as a visualization tool for the display of digital elevation. The Globe was subsequently used by the Education Department of Vanuatu for teaching purposes. The Vanuatu Globe gave access to LiDAR data and imagery making it a ground breaking open data portal for publicly sharing elevation and sea-level rise information.


Learning about the impact of sea-level rise in the Pacific Islands


First Response Mapping

The Vanuatu Globe (a Google Earth platform used to display digital elevation in the Pacific Islands) became the first response mapping tool for hundreds of users, including the Vanuatu government, the World Bank, non-government first responders and the people of Vanuatu in the days following Cyclone Pam — a category 5 cyclone that hit Vanuatu in March 2015. The Cyclone Pam Crisis Map can be found online at Imageries of damaged areas, affected houses and inundated roads along with population data, geotagged twitter photos and food drop information were added in near real-time to this open source globe platform. Accessed by thousands of people in the days after Cyclone Pam, it was only possible because of the work of the Pacific Islands Coastal Inundation Capacity Building Project.

The recognitions

 The work in the Pacific Islands has received significant media attention and won several awards. The Vanuatu Globe was featured at the White House Climate Data Initiative Announcement where the United States Government announced the Climate Data Initiative.
In Australia, the project has won a number of state and national spatial industry awards and, in October 2015, won the United Nations Lighthouse Activities Momentum for Change Award for Mapping Exposure to Sea-Level Rise.

CRCSI Program Manager Dr Nathan Quadros and NGIS Australia’s Nathan Eaton attended COP21 as part of the Momentum for Change Award. Both Qaurdros and Eaton reported the upbeat feel of the gathering as participants and conversation turned to opportunity of cost savings across governments and the business community with the implementation of climate ready action.

One local government council in Australia spoke of the savings of AU$600k through the installation of LEDs in street lights across a population of 29,000 residents. It were the examples of the simple,
practical solutions being implemented at ground level that built upon the optimism and the common ground of setting an agreed target.











First response mapping after Cyclone Pam


COP21 and way forward

The success of COP21 was the historic alignment of 195 countries to a common goal and a common target of a 1.5-degree increase in temperature from pre industrial time was reached.
The universal agreement’s main aim is to keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This agreement will support the continuing efforts of the 188 countries that have contributed climate action plans to the new agreement, to dramatically slow the pace of greenhouse gas emissions.And the timing is right. With 2015 verified as the hottest year on record, taking action now is as important as any other government decision to be made this century.