Opinion / Wang Hui

Sydney can help cities clean the seashore

By Wang Hui (China Daily) Updated: 2014-09-17 07:27

For most holidaymakers flocking to Sydney's Bondi Beach, they probably do not know the city's most famous seashore resort was once heavily polluted: Its famous sandy beach was rubbish-laden and its seawater unsuitable for swimming due to water contamination.

In fact, Bondi was not alone in its sufferings from the city's industrial pollution and people's unawareness of environment protection. A retrospective look at Sydney's poor environmental history shows up to the late 1980s Sydney's coastal zones, the harbor and waterways included, were used as the city's dumping ground and sewage was discharged directly into the sea, posing a severe threat to the ecosystem as well as to human health.

The city owes much of its cleaner waters, enchanting beaches and higher social and political awareness about environmental protection to one organization - the Sydney Coastal Councils Group. Established 25 years ago, it has thrived to be a leading force in Sydney's sustainable coastal management as well as a world leader in providing research and decision-making support for climate change adaptation action.

The group, comprising of 15 local governments, is a non-partisan and cooperative entity that has successfully united all political and social forces dedicated to coastal and marine conservation and protection. Over the years, the group has spearheaded campaigns to push for environmental protection legislation and environment-friendly coastal policies. It has also launched numerous initiatives in water pollution assessment and education of the general public about the importance of coastal protection.

Celebrating its 25th anniversary earlier this month, the organization has set its sights on defining pathways to sustainably manage the Sydney coast for the next 25 years.

As a country with a long coastline, China is facing severe challenges in better protecting and managing its coastal areas. China's coastal cities can learn from Sydney's experiences on not only how to clean up their beaches, but also how they can unite local governments and society under the same banner of environmental protection.

The Sydney Coastal Councils Group has a great interest in working closely with Chinese coastal cities, according to Geoff Withycombe, the group's executive officer. The two sides can share experiences, develop common programs, help build the capacity of governments and coastal managers and look to undertake joint research activities to help find sustainable coastal management solutions of the future, he suggests.

"Although the government systems in Australia and China are different, most of the key coastal management issues we face are not, such as addressing water pollution, managing population and development pressures, improving coastal amenity and communities facilitates, and coping with climate change and sea level rise," he said.

To him, the gist of Sydney's successful story is that local governments along the coastline now can work collectively and proactively to address issues in sustainable development and climate change.

For China's part, the central government has adopted a national strategy in climate change adaptation. It maps out measures for coastlines and coastal areas including rehabilitation of the ecosystem, scientific planning of development along the coastline and marine monitoring.

As such, the chances of Chinese coastal cities sharing their experiences with Australia now look greater. Actually, China has already invited Australian counterparts to China and introduced their successful practices, according to Sun Zhen, deputy director-general of the department of climate change under the National Development and Reform Commission.

"China and Australia can cooperate at technical level, as well as in research networking," Sun suggests.

The author is a senior writer with China Daily. wanghui@chinadaily.com.cn

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