Australia's Country Towns 2050: What will a Climate Adapted Settlement Pattern Look Like?

Adaptation Research Grants Program
Andrew Beer
University of Adelaide
Year Started: 
South Australia

Executive summary from final report:

This is the final output of a project for the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) on the impact of climate change on Australia’s country towns out to the year 2050 and the capacity of this component of Australia’s settlement system to adapt. 

The report summarises the findings from all stages of the research. It does six things: 

  1. First, it provides the conceptual foundation for the analysis of the capacity of Australia’s country towns to respond to climate change. It considers adaptation and maladaptation, the project impact of climate change on Australia’s ecosystem and the conceptualisation of vulnerability; 
  2. Second, it reviews the current literature on climate change and Australia’s settlement system, with particular reference to country towns. It highlights the challenges country towns are likely to face over the coming decades and the importance of community action in preparing for this new future; 
  3. Third, the report considers the prospects facing the industries that support country towns currently and which will need to either survive or be replaced if these places are to have a future. It finds here that the evidence is mixed: climate change will have mixed impacts on rural and regional industries and that some industries that might be considered at risk are likely to thrive, at least in the short term. Adverse events, including major weather events, may have an impact on the viability of these industries but in many instances new technologies and management strategies will assist the adjustment process;
  4. Fourth, it summarises the findings from the in-depth case studies of climate change impacts, vulnerabilities and responses in five inland locations – Alice Springs (NT); Horsham (Victoria); Junee (NSW); Moura (Queensland); and Waikerie (SA). The results of this component of the research show that in many ways inland settlements are lagging behind urban and coastal settlements in terms of adaptation. The case studies also show the varying capacities of settlements to respond to climate change and the need for more concerted action by a range of stakeholders, including all tiers of government, to support communities with risk identification, management and vulnerability. Currently, actions are very much still in the planning stage, and moving to the next phase in terms of setting goals and objectives for adaptation is crucial. 
  5. Fifth, the report presents the findings of the Delphi Analysis undertaken with key stakeholders in regional Australia, including representatives of state and local government, regional development agencies and academia. The results of this analysis shows a consensus around the complexity of challenges facing Australia’s inland settlements and that climate change impacts are just one part of the challenges facing communities. Again, the results of this component of the research show the need for directing further resources to communities to assist with understanding climate change impacts and for assisting communities to develop their own adaptive capacities.
  6. Sixth, the report presents the second iteration of an Index of Vulnerability for Australia’s country towns. It concludes that the development of such an index is both practical and potentially worthwhile and that when mapped the results tell a compelling story about the distribution of country towns at risk. The preliminary results from the development and application of this Index for Australia’s country towns, found that:
  • remote inland settlements are most at risk in a climate-change affected Australia;
  • many of the most at-risk communities are Indigenous communities in remote locations;
  • many parts of the established cropping lands in the south east of Australia appear to face a relatively muted risk, while settlements in Western Australia’s agricultural lands appear to face a greater threat than those in South Australia or Victoria;
  • the level of vulnerability appears high throughout NSW also, and this may partly be a function of the distance of many of these centres from Sydney or one of the other capitals; and, 
  • the least vulnerable inland centres tend to be located close to the capitals (for example, Crafers-Bridgewater and Summertown in South Australia) or larger settlements with diverse economies, such as Bendigo. 

The report concludes that some of the implications of climate change for country towns are already evident. In many instances communities are already making investments in new infrastructure and facilities in response to events that can be linked to climate change. Examples include, the upgrading of fire fighting facilities and capacity; enhancing water supply or making provision for alternative sources of supply; better planning for flood risk; and, improving transport infrastructure, including roads and bridges. Critically, many of these investments are not placed within the context of climate change-related need, and therefore engagement with these issues tends to be ad hoc and sporadic, rather than systematic and strategic. The number and percentage of settlements with well-developed planning for climate change is small. 

View the final report

More Information

Preliminary Report available on Australia Policy Online