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Increasingly there is recognition from researchers and policy makers that there are legal, institutional and cultural barriers to climate change adaptation that will need to be addressed if we are able to adapt efficiently and equitably. However, there is a limited body of evidence and few examples of how barriers to adaptation to sea level rise emerge and are addressed in local contexts. Focusing on sea level rise in Australia, this project undertakes inquiry into legal, institutional and cultural barriers to adaptation in two ways. The first is an investigation of barriers to climate change adaptation in general by analysing a unique body of evidence in a systematic document analysis of over eight hundred pages of submissions to the Australian Productivity Commission’s inquiry to barriers to adaptation. The second was an in-depth investigation into community perceptions of one particular barrier - uncertainty about responsibility for adaptation - in two case study areas: Eurobodalla in New South Wales and Mornington Peninsula in Victoria.

The study found that, according to key actors in climate change adaptation in Australia, there are 5 five key kinds of barriers to adaptation: governance, policy, uncertainty, resources, and psychosocial factors. The governance barrier of uncertainty about roles and responsibilities across levels of government and sectors was seen to be one of the most important barriers to adaptation. The subsequent empirical research into community preferences for the distribution of responsibility for key adaptation tasks revealed that there was strong support for a significant role for government in all aspects of adaptation. There is recognition that adaptation to sea level rise should be a shared responsibility, but with distinct roles for each level of government. Local government was seen to be best placed to manage public assets, regulate decisions about private assets, and lead and coordinate public input for local planning. Federal government was viewed as the most appropriate entity to take responsibility for information provision on the risks of sea level rise, and to bear most of the costs of adaptation. State governments, while not viewed as the primary responsible entity for any of these key tasks, was seen to have a role in coordinating adaptation actions across local government areas.

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