The socio-economic vulnerability of the Australian east coast grazing sector to the impacts of climate change

Abstract

Research that projects biophysical changes under climate change is more advanced than research that projects socio-economic changes. There is a need in adaptation planning for informed socio-economic projections as well as analysis of how these changes may exacerbate or reduce vulnerability. Our focus in this paper is on the delivery of time-sensitive socio-economic information that can better support anticipatory adaptation planning approaches. Using a ‘multiple lines of evidence’ approach based on Australian Bureau of Statistics’ data (2010/2011), we examine the socio-economic vulnerability of the grazing sector located on Australia’s east coast. We profile the east coast grazing sector through an overview of the composition of its workforce and the value of grazing commodities produced. We then assess the potential vulnerability of the grazing sector using spatial snapshots of five factors known to shape socio-economic vulnerability in New South Wales and Queensland: (1) reliance on agriculture, (2) geographic remoteness, (3) socio-economic disadvantage, (4) economic diversity and (5) age. Our assessment of the east coast grazing sector reveals six subregions characterised by high potential socio-economic vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. We find high percentages of labour forces employed in agriculture, geographic remoteness and age (high percentages of owner/managers and employees in younger age groups) to be drivers of vulnerability. Finally, we evaluate the ways in which these vulnerabilities may be exacerbated or reduced in light of emerging environmental, economic and social trends. This approach complements demographic projection methods to deliver time-sensitive socio-economic information to support anticipatory adaptation planning.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Australia’s 55 mainland NRM regions are part of a regionalised framework for environmental governance that gained momentum during the 1980s and 1990s. These arrangements re-configured the relationships between government, business and civil society for environmental governance by devolving responsibility for NRM to community-based regional entities (Wallington and Lawrence 2008; Gunningham 2009). The structural and governance arrangements differ between states and territories as a result of individual bilateral agreements between the federal government and the respective state/territory government. These organisations also differ markedly in terms of their environmental and demographic characteristics, operational capacities and the land area for which they are responsible (Moore and Rockloff 2006; Robins and Dovers 2007; Robins and Kanowski 2011).

  2. 2.

    The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s (CSIRO) climate change projections cited here are the most comprehensive projections ever released for Australia and were developed specifically for NRM regions. Up to 40 global climate models were used for the simulations. Detailed projections are available for four of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs). Further information is available online at http://www.climatechangeinaustralia.gov.au/en/.

  3. 3.

    This knowledge gap is not unique to assessments of the vulnerability of the grazing sector. For example, a recent systematic review of research examining the impact of climate change on the transmission of Ross River Virus reveals that studies seldom include non-climatic factors, particularly socio-economic factors (e.g. migration patterns, population growth and urbanisation). Consequently, identifying vulnerable communities and formulating comprehensive and sustainable programmes to manage Ross River Virus transmission is inhibited (Yu et al. 2014).

  4. 4.

    Statistical areas are the geographic units used in the ABS’ Australian Statistical Geography Standard (effective from July 2011). SA 1s represent regions with populations in the range of 200–800. SA 2s are the next largest geographic unit which represents regions with populations in the range of 3000–25,000.

  5. 5.

    No directly comparable analysis is available for the Northern Rivers (now renamed the North Coast Local Land Services Region).

  6. 6.

    The Smailes et al. (2014) study spanned only the states of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. No comparable analysis is available for the Fitzroy NRM region.

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Funding

This article received funding from the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency as part of the Natural Resource Management Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Research Grants Program, under the Natural Resource Management Planning for Climate Change Fund—A Clean Energy Future Initiative (Australia). The views expressed herein are not necessarily the views of the Commonwealth of Australia, and the Commonwealth does not accept responsibility for any information or advice contained herein.

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Correspondence to Erin F. Smith.

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Smith, E.F., Lieske, S.N., Keys, N. et al. The socio-economic vulnerability of the Australian east coast grazing sector to the impacts of climate change. Reg Environ Change 18, 1185–1199 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-017-1251-0

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Keywords

  • Adaptation
  • Resource dependency
  • Sensitivity
  • Regional planning
  • Broadacre agriculture