Home > T&I Project - Component 6. Climate Adaptation


Component Summary

This research project is one of five components of the Institute’s Healthy Coorong, Healthy Basin Scientific Trials and Investigations Program.

A climate adaptation plan will be developed for the Coorong and provide a key mechanism for decision-makers, Ngarrindjeri Nation and First Nations of the South East and other stakeholders to anticipate and effectively prepare for the significant challenges that will confront them as the Coorong experiences the continuing impacts of climate change. The project has been designed to maximise the opportunity for stakeholders to incorporate the findings into their planning and activities. The project will build the capacity of all Coorong stakeholders to implement near-term actions in a way that makes available more effective options for addressing future significant climate change. It will help them consider what a ‘Healthy Coorong’ might look like in the face of sustained change, the decision-making challenges associated with sustaining it, and actions they can take to address those challenges through creating or making available relevant knowledge, helping stakeholders develop informed preferences for different outcomes or reforming policies and other institutions.

Component Detail

Climate change is a critical threat to the ecological character of Ramsar wetlands globally, and in particular the Coorong and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert Wetland, due to the potential for reduced inflows, sea level rise and increased temperatures all of which are important drivers of functioning and condition of wetlands (Lester et al. 2013; Pritchard 2014; Colloff et al. 2015; Colloff et al. 2016; Finlayson et al. 2017; James et al. 2017). Climate change is and will continue to drive a suite of environmental changes at regional and local scales that will affect the Coorong and Lower Lakes.

These changes include:

These environmental impacts are expected to lead to a multitude of ecological changes in the Coorong and have significant impacts on the livelihoods and wellbeing of many communities and businesses, including the Ngarrindjeri Nation and the First Nations of the South East. Impacts experienced during the Millennium Drought (2001-2010) demonstrate the sensitivity of the system to extended novel climatic conditions, the breadth of impacts on different parts of the Coorong and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert Wetland system, and the immense challenge in managing those impacts.

Continuing climate change will provide increasingly significant challenges to the conservation and management of the Coorong. Management efforts are currently being made to aid recovery, optimise the use of available environmental water and mitigate existing threats. However, in the medium- to long-term, climate change is anticipated to lead to sustained changes in flows, water levels, water quality and temperature, leading to cascading ecological impacts and further change in ecological character (Gross et al. 2012). There is now an imperative to ensure that the management of the Coorong and Lower Lakes region can be implemented adaptively in the face of continuing change. The aim of this Climate Adaptation Component is to ensure that, while trying to manage the current pressures on the Coorong and maintain its ecological character, preparations are being made to anticipate and effectively prepare decision makers and society for the decisions that will need to be made about managing the Coorong as climate change continues to unfold and evolve its character.

Figure 1. Activities under Component 6 of HCHB Scientific Trials & Investigations project, with phases of the project denoted by colour and he primary focus on stakeholder engagement noted on the right

Key Knowledge Gaps and Management Questions

The Climate Adaptation Component is framed around the needs of decision makers facing the potential for transformative climate change. It is using specifically designed processes to explore the nature of future adaptation decisions, and examining the consequences of those for current decision making.

The Component is addressing the following key management questions:

  1. How will future climate change affect the capacity of existing and new management to maintain the ecological character of the Coorong?
  2. Which of the multiple values of the Coorong are most at risk and which ones could be maintained in the event of continued ecological change and evolution of its character as a result of climate change?
  3. What management would be required to ensure a ‘Healthy Coorong’ and the wellbeing of communities dependent on it in the medium to long term? How would alternative interventions affect different values? What institutional changes would be needed to guide choices between accepting and resisting change, to enable new management, and to consider the multiple values influencing objectives for the future of the Coorong?
  4. What near-term actions could enable future changes in policy and management, and how can these be readily embedded into existing policies and programs (e.g. HCHB), inform future policy reform (e.g. at Murray-Darling Basin scale) and shape local community and stakeholder perspectives and behaviour?

For the purposes of this Component, ‘key knowledge gaps limiting management’ includes, in addition to biophysical knowledge gaps, gaps in all the information that will be drawn upon by the multitude of decision makers and stakeholders who will shape the future of the Coorong as climate change continues. A gap may relate to ‘missing information’ but often it will be a ‘missing process’ that would allow a decision maker or stakeholder to access, provide or create such information. This extends to institutional arrangements that no longer enable effective decision making in the face of novel adaptation challenges.

Approach to addressing key knowledge gaps and management questions

This Component is addressing these climate adaptation knowledge gaps and management questions by focusing on the needs of decision makers in the context of possibly transformational impacts of on-going climate change. Transformation may be in the form of major ecological changes in the Coorong, major changes to how the Coorong in managed, or major changes Basin-level water sharing policy.

The needs of decision makers to successfully navigate these issues extend beyond an understanding of the biophysical characteristics of these problems to include consideration of the values that should be at play and the rules that might best enable decision making. The decision makers in this context includes society at large, as these issues will not be navigated by river manager and government officials alone. They will be determined by all those with a stake in the Coorong region and the Basin more broadly and the elected officials who represent them in multiple jurisdictions.

A futures context does not mean ignoring near-term objectives to restore health and minimise change in character, rather it involves helping to plan and implement near-term actions so they address such objectives and also lay the foundation for navigating more challenging decisions to come, and specifically to ensure near-term actions are not ‘maladaptive’.

The approach of engaging with the governance of adaptation differs from a traditional biophysical analysis of impacts and adaptation actions by focusing jointly on the technical knowledge and on the social and institutional context that will determine which outcomes for the Coorong will be deemed preferable and which actions can be chosen and implemented. It is guided by emerging global experience with transdisciplinary adaptation research (Abel et al. 2016; Gorddard et al. 2016; Stafford Smith et al. 2016; Wyborn et al. 2016; Colloff et al. 2017), and the Australian Government’s guidance on climate adaptation for Commonwealth agencies (CSIRO 2017).

Specifically, the Component is following the principles below, derived from Van Kerkhoff et al. (2019).

  1. Co-producing knowledge with stakeholders so they have ownership of the process, the knowledge is credible, and they have the ability and opportunity to use it.
  2. Understanding the context of the Coorong, including change over the last century, the diverse ways the Coorong is valued, the multiple environmental pressures on the Coorong and the current initiatives to manage them.
  3. Navigating considerable uncertainty and diversity of views about the future dynamics of the Coorong, recognising that future-oriented decisions will need to be made despite this uncertainty.
  4. Accommodating significant climate change, including the prospect of continuing transformational change.
  5. Enabling adaptation by evolving the decision context, recognizing that the future of the Coorong will be shaped by the evolving understanding and preferences of multiple stakeholders including people across Australian society and changing institutional arrangements across agencies, sectors and jurisdictions affecting layers of policy and decision making.
  6. Identifying opportunities for near-term management actions and engagement processes to help evolve decision contexts to provide future managers with the knowledge, stakeholder support and institutional environments that create more-effective options for managing the Coorong as the climate continues to change.

Literature Cited

Abel, N., Wise, R.M., Colloff, M.J., Walker, B.H., Butler, J.R.A., Ryan, P., Norman, C., Langston, A., Anderies, J.M., Gorddard, R., Dunlop, M. and O’Connell, D. (2016) Building a resilient pathway towards transformation when “no-one is in charge”: insights from Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin. Ecology and Society 21(2), 23. Catford, J.A., Naiman, R.J., Chambers, L.E., Roberts, J., Douglas, M. and Davies, P., (2013). Predicting novel riparian ecosystems in a changing climate. Ecosystems 16(3), pp.382-400.

Colloff, M.J., Crossman, N.D and Overton, I.C. (2015). Ecosystem services from the Coorong, Lakes Alexandrina and Albert Ramsar site. CSIRO Land and Water, Canberra.

Colloff, M. J., Lavorel, S., Wise, R. M., Dunlop, M., Overton, I. C., & Williams, K. J. (2016). Adaptation services of floodplains and wetlands under transformational climate change. Ecological Applications, 26(4), 1003-1017.

Colloff, M. J., Lavorel, S., van Kerkhoff, L. E., Wyborn, C. A., Fazey, I., Gorddard, R., ... & Crowley, J. (2017). Transforming conservation science and practice for a postnormal world. Conservation Biology, 31(5), 1008-1017.

CSIRO (2017) Climate Compass. A proposed climate risk management procedure for Commonwealth agencies. CSIRO, Australia.

Gorddard, R., Colloff, M.J., Wise, R.M., Ware, D. and Dunlop, M., 2016. Values, rules and knowledge: Adaptation as change in the decision context. Environmental Science & Policy, 57, pp.60-69.

Finlayson, C.M., Capon, S.J., Rissik, D., Pittock, J., Fisk, G., Davidson, N.C., Bodmin, K.A., Papas, P., Robertson, H.A., Schallenberg, M. and Saintilan, N., (2017) Policy considerations for managing wetlands under a changing climate. Marine and Freshwater Research, 68(10), pp.1803-1815.

Gross, C, Pittock, J, Finlayson, M & Geddes, MC (2012), Climate change adaptation in the Coorong, Murray Mouth and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert, National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, Gold Coast, 109 pp.

James, C.S., Reside, A.E., VanDerWal, J., Pearson, R.G., Burrows, D., Capon, S.J., Harwood, T.D., Hodgson, L. and Waltham, N.J., (2017). Sink or swim? Potential for high faunal turnover in Australian rivers under climate change. Journal of Biogeography, 44(3), pp.489-501.

Lester, R. E., Fairweather, P. G., Webster, I. T., & Quin, R. A. (2013). Scenarios involving future climate and water extraction: ecosystem states in the estuary of Australia's largest river. Ecological Applications, 23(5), 984-998.

Pritchard D (2014) Change in ecological character of wetland sites – a review of Ramsar guidance and mechanisms. Consultant’s Report for Ramsar Convention Secretariat, Gland, Switzerland.

Stafford Smith M, Horrocks L, Harvey A and Hamilton C (2011) Rethinking adaptation for a 4 °C world. Philosophical transactions. Series A, Mathematical, physical, and engineering sciences, 369(1934), 196–216.

Van Kerkhoff, L., Munera, C., Dudley, N., Guevara, O., Wyborn, C., Figueroa, C., Dunlop, M., Abud Hoyos, M., Castiblanco, J., Becerra, L. (2018). Towards future-oriented conservation: Managing protected areas in an era of climate change. Ambio.

Wyborn, C., van Kerkhoff, L., Dunlop, M., Dudley, N., & Guevara, O. (2016). Future oriented conservation: knowledge governance, uncertainty and learning. Biodiversity and Conservation, 25(7), 1401-1408.