Understanding Climate Risk

Science, policy and decision-making

Ecosystems – the slippery slope to slime

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NCCARF Adaptation Conference

Day 1 Tuesday 25th June 2013, 1.00-2.30 pm

Whatever we do for our ecosystems we know that climate change means a fundamental shift in what our ecosystems look like. Arguably it is where aggressive mitigation might be the best adaptation option. In the absence of this, what do we do? If we keep doing what we do now (build resilience, biosecurity, reduce fragmentation) is it enough? Should we be pragmatic and start preparing for trade-offs – determine sacrificial species or ecosystems that we can’t save? Is it simply an economic exercise of optimising our investment to get the best diversity bang for our buck? Or are we simply on the slippery-slope to slime with weeds and algae the future of biodiversity.

Facilitator: Craig James (CSIRO)

  • Doing what we already know – is it enough or is there a resilience deficit? (Lesley Hughes – MQU)
  • The marine environment – from coral to slime (Alistair Hobday – CSIRO)
  • Location, location,location – are our National Parks in the right place? (Steve Williams – JCU)
  • Having our cake and eating it – water supply and biodiversity it’s all possible (Max Finlayson – CSU)
  • It’s a simple equation – making the pragmatic decisions of trade-offs, optimisation (Eve McDonald-Madden – UQ)

In the introduction, Craig James mentioned Dunlop et al. (2013) who outline a basic institutional model  that consists of values, rules and knowledge. It looked to me like a model for institutional decision-making similar to those we are messing with, but I can’t track down the publication online. I did discuss it with Mike Dunlop and he agreed that that was basically the case.

Lesley Hughes suggested we knew enough about biodiversity science and the key gaps were in social science and economics. She suggested the pragmatic strategy of putting humans at the centre of biodiversity decision-making was the way forward – almost an ‘economic rationalist’ position.

Alistair Hobday channeled Dr Strangelove as he spoke about changes from the hindsight of 2050. One of his significant warnings was about the unstrategic relocation of marine species during a time of rapid change.

JCU team (Williams et al.) have just finished a major refugia project: The role of refugia in ecosystem resilience and maintenance of terrestrial biodiversity in the face of global climate change – a range of criteria are used to assess refugia (up to seven). Combined, these have been superimposed onto the national reserves system. Some areas are well represented – others poorly. Changes are based not only on magnitude but how far from current variability, they extend – these show large changes on the coast, rather than inland where variability is already very high.

Max F suggested that the water plans, especially the Murray Darling Basin Plan weren’t too bad, but that they don’t factor in climate change. The need to build in multiple drivers (including social) into such plans is paramount.

Eve McDonald-Madden spoke in the decision sciences and the use of expected value to optimise the economics of decision making. She cited the Bernoulli Equation: expected value as a derivation of the Bernoulli equation (likelihood and benefit) cannot always be resolved under large uncertainty. How are there ways beyond this impasse into developing an innovation-based system that can yield benefits, measured on an ongoing basis?

Topics that came up in questions included:

  • Restated the need to concentrate on ecological process – value model, where values are directly linked to key processes and services.
  • Proceed with planning under a intensification scenarios e.g., population, land use).
  • Taking on an anthropocentric model is more than the straightforward economic rationalist model as put by Lesley – there is the further level of ecosystem services and support, values and livelihood. (Lesley agrees!)
  • Biodiversity does not always thrive under an ecosystem services/green infrastructure model, so how should it be maintained? Need to keep biodiversity as an underpinning process within ecosystem services. Livelihoods and well-being needs also to be built into this framework.
  • Steve Williams provided examples of multi-criteria analysis – where cross-sectoral benefits offer better outcomes than individual optimisation.
  • Science needs to be better targeted to where decisions will be made – individuals, organisations and institutions (e.g., government). This will target a range of potential maladaptive decisions being made (e.g., uninformed relocation) from taking place.

The panel highlighted the need to build in economics and peoples’ values into biodiversity planning without jettisoning good underpinning science, and made a series of pragmatic suggestions for doing so.


Written by Roger Jones

June 25, 2013 at 11:09 pm

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