Conceptualising, evaluating and reporting social resilience in vulnerable regional and remote communities facing climate change in tropical Queensland : marine and tropical sciences research facility transition project final report

Dale, A., Vella, K., Cotrell, A., Pert, P., Stephenson, B., Boon, H., King, D., Whitehouse, H., Hill, R., Babacan, H., Thomas, M., & Gooch, M. (2011) Conceptualising, evaluating and reporting social resilience in vulnerable regional and remote communities facing climate change in tropical Queensland : marine and tropical sciences research facility transition project final report. MTSRF Research Provider Institute, Canberra, ACT.

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Regional and remote communities in tropical Queensland are among Australia’s most vulnerable in the face of climate change. At the same time, these socially and economically vulnerable regions house some of Australia’s most significant biodiversity values. Past approaches to terrestrial biodiversity management have focused on tackling biophysical interventions through the use of biophysical knowledge. An equally important focus should be placed on building regional-scale community resilience if some of the worst biodiversity impacts of climate change are to be avoided or mitigated.

Despite its critical need, more systemic or holistic approaches to natural resource management have been rarely trialed and tested in a structured way. Currently, most strategic interventions in improving regional community resilience are ad hoc, not theory-based and short term. Past planning approaches have not been durable, nor have they been well informed by clear indicators. Research into indicators for community resilience has been poorly integrated within adaptive planning and management cycles. This project has aimed to resolve this problem by:

  • Reviewing the community and social resilience and adaptive planning literature to reconceptualise an improved framework for applying community resilience concepts;

  • Harvesting and extending work undertaken in MTSRF Phase 1 to identifying the learnings emerging from past MTSRF research;

  • Distilling these findings to identify new theoretical and practical approaches to the application of community resilience in natural resource use and management;

  • Reconsidering the potential interplay between a region’s biophysical and social planning processes, with a focus on exploring spatial tools to communicate climate change risk and its consequent environmental, economic and social impacts, and;

  • Trialling new approaches to indicator development and adaptive planning to improve community resilience, using a sub-regional pilot in the Wet Tropics. In doing so, we also looked at ways to improve the use and application of relevant spatial information.

Our theoretical review drew upon the community development, psychology and emergency management literature to better frame the concept of community resilience relative to aligned concepts of social resilience, vulnerability and adaptive capacity. Firstly, we consider community resilience as a concept that can be considered at a range of scales (e.g. regional, locality, communities of interest, etc.). We also consider that overall resilience at higher scales will be influenced by resilience levels at lesser scales (inclusive of the resilience of constituent institutions, families and individuals). We illustrate that, at any scale, resilience and vulnerability are not necessarily polar opposites, and that some understanding of vulnerability is important in determining resilience. We position social resilience (a concept focused on the social characteristics of communities and individuals) as an important attribute of community resilience, but one that needs to be considered alongside economic, natural resource, capacity-based and governance attributes.

The findings from the review of theory and MTSRF Phase 1 projects were synthesized and refined by the wider project team. Five predominant themes were distilled from this literature, research review and an expert analysis. They include the findings that:

  1. Indicators have most value within an integrated and adaptive planning context, requiring an active co-research relationship between community resilience planners, managers and researchers if real change is to be secured;

  2. Indicators of community resilience form the basis for planning for social assets and the resilience of social assets is directly related the longer term resilience of natural assets. This encourages and indeed requires the explicit development and integration of social planning within a broader natural resource planning and management framework;

  3. Past indicator research and application has not provided a broad picture of the key attributes of community resilience and there have been many attempts to elicit lists of “perfect” indicators that may never be useful within the time and resource limitations of real world regional planning and management. We consider that modeling resilience for proactive planning and prediction purposes requires the consideration of simple but integrated clusters of attributes;

  4. Depending on time and resources available for planning and management, the combined use of well suited indicators and/or other lesser “lines of evidence” is more flexible than the pursuit of perfect indicators, and that;

  5. Index-based, collaborative and participatory approaches need to be applied to the development, refinement and reporting of indicators over longer time frames.

We trialed the practical application of these concepts via the establishment of a collaborative regional alliance of planners and managers involved in the development of climate change adaptation strategies across tropical Queensland (the Gulf, Wet Tropics, Cape York and Torres Strait sub-regions). A focus on the Wet Tropics as a pilot sub-region enabled other Far North Queensland sub-region’s to participate and explore the potential extension of this approach. The pilot activities included:

  • Further exploring ways to innovatively communicate the region’s likely climate change scenarios and possible environmental, economic and social impacts. We particularly looked at using spatial tools to overlay climate change risks to geographic communities and social vulnerabilities within those communities;

  • Developing a cohesive first pass of a State of the Region-style approach to reporting community resilience, inclusive of regional economic viability, community vitality, capacitybased and governance attributes. This framework integrated a literature review, expert (academic and community) and alliance-based contributions; and

  • Early consideration of critical strategies that need to be included in unfolding regional planning activities with Far North Queensland.

The pilot assessment finds that rural, indigenous and some urban populations in the Wet Tropics are highly vulnerable and sensitive to climate change and may require substantial support to adapt and become more resilient. This assessment finds that under current conditions (i.e. if significant adaptation actions are not taken) the Wet Tropics as a whole may be seriously impacted by the most significant features of climate change and extreme climatic events. Without early and substantive action, this could result in declining social and economic wellbeing and natural resource health.

Of the four attributes we consider important to understanding community resilience, the Wet Tropics region is particularly vulnerable in two areas; specifically its economic vitality and knowledge, aspirations and capacity. The third and fourth attributes, community vitality and institutional governance are relatively resilient but are vulnerable in some key respects. In regard to all four of these attributes, however, there is some emerging capacity to manage the possible shocks that may be associated with the impacts of climate change and extreme climatic events. This capacity needs to be carefully fostered and further developed to achieve broader community resilience outcomes. There is an immediate need to build individual, household, community and sectoral resilience across all four attribute groups to enable populations and communities in the Wet Tropics region to adapt in the face of climate change. Preliminary strategies of importance to improve regional community resilience have been identified. These emerging strategies also have been integrated into the emerging Regional Development Australia Roadmap, and this will ensure that effective implementation will be progressed and coordinated. They will also inform emerging strategy development to secure implementation of the FNQ 2031 Regional Plan.

Of most significance in our view, this project has taken a co-research approach from the outset with explicit and direct importance and influence within the region’s formal planning and management arrangements. As such, the research:

  • Now forms the foundations of the first attempt at “Social Asset” planning within the Wet Tropics Regional NRM Plan review;

  • Is assisting Local government at regional scale to consider aspects of climate change adaptation in emerging planning scheme/community planning processes;

  • Has partnered the State government (via the Department of Infrastructure and Planning and Regional Managers Coordination Network Chair) in progressing the Climate Change adaptation agenda set down within the FNQ 2031 Regional Plan;

  • Is informing new approaches to report on community resilience within the GBRMPA Outlook reporting framework; and

  • Now forms the foundation for the region’s wider climate change adaptation priorities in the Regional Roadmap developed by Regional Development Australia.

Through the auspices of Regional Development Australia, the outcomes of the research will now inform emerging negotiations concerning a wider package of climate change adaptation priorities with State and Federal governments. Next stage research priorities are also being developed to enable an ongoing alliance between researchers and the region’s climate change response.

Impact and interest:

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ID Code: 72901
Item Type: Report
Refereed: No
Divisions: Current > Schools > School of Civil Engineering & Built Environment
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Science & Engineering Faculty
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2011 MTSRF Research Provider Institute
Deposited On: 19 Jun 2014 23:30
Last Modified: 23 Jun 2014 05:31

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