Home' Position : Position Feb Mar 2015 Contents CSIRO predicts different rainfall changes
across five regions of the state, and
temperature in six.
The research also considered second-
order effects, such as changes in the
frequency of extreme weather events,
sea level rise and storm surge. These are
caused by the primary stressors, but add
their own dynamic to the overall picture
of landscape vulnerability.
It is one thing to itemise the various
types of stressors, but clearly their impact
depends on the type of environment on
which they operate. A change in average
daily temperature means one thing for
flora that can survive in the Simpson
Desert. It means something quite different
on top of the Snowy Mountains.
To turn these observations into data-
sets they could work with, the research-
ers sorted the environment into those of
natural vegetation, wetlands, estuaries,
rivers and streams, and soil types. The
characteristics of each of these was then
defined in terms of different asset types.
To define native vegetation, for instance,
the researchers used the ecological vegeta-
tion classes developed by the Department
of Environment and Primary Industry,
and grouped these into 40-odd different
groups based on their anticipated sensitiv-
ity to climate change stressors.
They then determined a sensitivity
profile for each of these different asset
types. The profile is a measure of the
response of the asset to incremental
changes in the climate stressors. Usually,
this profile was based on objective criteria
that could be used as a proxy for a
subjective concept like sensitivity.
The detail of this process is clearly a
matter of judgement, but Farrell says the
values were assigned in a fully transparent
manner by an expert group to represent
the best scientific consensus available.
At this point, it was possible to map
the impact of changes in climate stressors.
Maps could be produced for a particular
time-frame and a particular emission
scenario. But so far, the analysis has been
a linear sequence of cause and effect. It as-
sumes that humans and animals are passive
players in the drama of climate change.
In fact, adaptive strategies will have
a profound effect on the vulnerability of
natural assets. “Adaptive capacity is a
key measure of how an environment will
actually respond,” Mr Farrell said.
But this means the researchers had
to develop appropriate measures of
adaptive capacity for each asset class, in
the same way they developed measures
of sensitivity. For the purposes of the
study, they defined the adaptive capacity
of native vegetation in terms of site
condition and landscape connectivity.
At this point, the researchers combined
data for exposure and sensitivity to map
the potential impact of climate change
across the Victorian landscape for each
of the natural assets identified. They
used the figure for adaptive capacity to
adjust that rating and thus established
the vulnerability of specific landscapes to
global changes in climate.
This data was presented in map form
for various possible future scenarios
advanced by the IPCC over a number of
different time frames. These are known as
Representative Concentration Pathways.
For instance, the researchers produced
a map for the worst possible IPCC
predictions out to 2090, known as RCP 8.5,
which assumes no meaningful abatement
during the 21st century. It makes for
gloomy viewing, if only because since the
IPCC began reporting, the climate has
always tracked its worst predictions.
Mr Farrell said the point of the exercise
is a decision-support framework. “It adds
value to the work of natural resource
managers,” he said. To this end, the
researchers have made the assumptions
underpinning all their decisions as
transparent as possible, and built the
project in a modular fashion so that as
new knowledge comes to light, it can be
updated without starting from scratch.
The researchers developed an online ver-
sion of the project aimed at natural resource
managers working in catchment manage-
ment authorities. They had access to the
project outputs prior to loading the data into
their own systems, and could also use this
GIS environment to view their individual
results in the context of the entire state.
The system only has value to the extent
that these managers can use it to assist
their decision making and review current
management strategies and plans. Geoff
Park said it is important, because adaptive
capacity is the key factor that a natural
resource manager can influence.
He said there are two types of action:
adaptation and mitigation. Adaptation
might involve improving the state of
natural vegetation. Mitigation could
involve natural regeneration, carbon
sequestration or other strategies. Both
of them work to increase the adaptive
capacity of NRM assets.
The data can help with questions about
feasibility and effectiveness, especially
with the addition of economic data. Most
importantly, the researchers hope it will
be used to rank the cost effectiveness
of projects undertaken by catchment
Jon Fairall was the founding editor of
Position magazine. ■
“It makes for gloomy viewing, if only because since
the IPCC began reporting, the climate has always
tracked its worst predictions.”
Projected native vegetation vulnerability for 2050 and 2070.
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