Sometime very soon, a draft FNQ 2025 Plan will be released, setting the direction for land use planning in this region for the next few decades.

The draft will be open to public comment, but from the outset the inside word has been to expect few changes to the draft in the final version.

This plan, in other words, if our State political masters and mistresses have their way, is almost done. After the great unwashed get to look at it, there may be minor tinkering around the edges – but nothing fundamental.

Not only is the fate of FNQ being determined, behind closed doors, at this moment. The State Government’s explicit intention is to make the plan statutory. In other words, if we ever want to change FNQ 2025, we must talk to the State Government about changing the law (although statutory reviews are likely).

One might think this is exciting widespread interest throughout the region, but until now, there has been little public focus on FNQ 2025. There hasn’t been much to get teeth into. Just a plethora of opportunities to be consulted – to what effect heaven only knows.

Before Christmas, I spoke to one of the planners by telephone. They were all very busy, but she was good enough to take a few moments off to answer my questions. I kept them brief.

First I wanted to know about population growth scenarios. What scenarios were being used?

Second I wanted to know about greenhouse emission targets. What targets were being employed?

The answer to the first question seemed to be: one – just under 2%. In other words, the planners are using only one population growth scenario.

The answer to the second question seemed to be: no and none. In other words, the planners have not been told to devise their proposals to achieve any given greenhouse emission target.

By now you may have sensed that I am a critic of what appears to be going on behind closed doors where planners are currently beavering away deciding our future.

I believe the applicable formula is something like this:

Unrealistic Assumptions IN = Silly Plans that Will Need Changing Soon OUT

I won’t comment here on the agenda that I fear may be driving FNQ 2025. I’ll wait till I can read the document and look at some of the small print.

My goal in this article is merely to highlight what I regard as obvious follies.

I’ll assume that nothing has changed in these basic FNQ 2025 guidelines since December.

First, a plan that is based on one population growth scenario alone is not a real world plan. It is not a plan devised so it can be easily adjusted to actual circumstances over time. It’s more like a plan that attempts to achieve (or exceed?) a predetermined population growth level, come what may. In other words, the current government apparently has no plan for the region’s prosperity that does not entail ongoing population growth. That’s a worry. What if tourism collapses, for example? How can such inflexible planning safeguard our best interests given all the unknowns of the future?

Second, a long term plan that will become ‘final’ in 2008/9, which fails to embrace a greenhouse emissions target, will need to be re-done rather soon. The idea that there will be no target is highly unrealistic. Australia is now a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol.

What weight, for example, can be attached to FNQ 2025’s proposals for long-term transport infrastructure if they don’t take greenhouse emission targets into account? None, I trust. But such a policy conflict will give rise to precisely what the plan is trying to avoid: planning uncertainty.

Now I will be really gloomy and give another reason why I believe the new plan may need to be scrapped within five to ten years.

The latest IPCC report did the world a great disservice in understating the likely problem we face with sea-level rise. Evidence is starting to come in fast that this may be a much more immediate and serious problem than the IPCC’s 4th Assessment report (2007) suggested when it marginally downgraded the Third Assessment Report’s estimate of end of century sea level rise, offering a figure of approximately half a metre for policy makers anxious to read the Exec Summary only.

When IPCC 4 was being finalized, scientific disagreement over the timing and extent of ice-cap and glacial melt as a factor in sea level rise was so great that the contribution to potential sea level rise of this crucial factor was simply left out of the estimate. Yet to leave out the biggest part of a calculation because that part of the answer isn’t clear is highly misleading.

Several millions of years ago, before the Pleistocene Epoch, the world was hotter than today by an average of some 2 or 3 degrees. At that time, sea level was higher by approximately 25 metres. Moreover, there is evidence of quite rapid sea level rises in the geological past – in the order of metres per decade.

We should take the prospect of substantial sea level rise within coming decades much more seriously.

For an informed – and very alarming – discussion of these topics, I recommend Scientific reticence and sea level rise by J E Hansen of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

I hope worst case scenarios on glacial melt do not materialise. If not, before too long it’ll become clear that Cairns must effectively be abandoned, along with any more suburbs built between now and then within metres of current sea level.

Given uncertainty about sea level rise, unless we put coastal suburbs on floats, I believe the only sensible place for new development in this region is on the tablelands. That’s where we can be much more confident of long-term benefit.

A modern rail line, for instance, between the Tablelands and coast, is smart infrastructure to put in now. Under most conceivable scenarios it will be useful in the future.

But I fear the penny hasn’t dropped about sustainability and the global environmental crisis in Queensland’s portals of power, not yet, at any rate.

Don’t expect state of the art solutions to a low emissions future in FNQ 2025. If the draft of FNQ 2025 does aim for urban growth on the tablelands, it may mean, God forbid, that Myola is still within its intended ‘urban footprint’. (That would really raise the temperature around here!)

Expect instead plenty of new settlements designated for the Cairns coastal plain, a little more concentrated than before, but effectively new extensions to the sprawling mini-city of Cairns.

They are settlements that, if built, may eventually become interesting habitat for puzzled fish.