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.
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:
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.
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).