Effective Adaptation Policy Making: A case study from the Eyre Peninsula

This case study was prepared with the assistance of Brian Foster and Cecilia Woolford 

Adaptation to change is a constant in Australia and recent awareness of climate change has brought climate impacts into consideration across a broad range of scales.  From state level planning frameworks through to individual actions the aim of this series is to provide examples of adaptation in action.  This series will explore positive responses to all types of climate change challenges from around Australia.  If you are aware of good adaptation actions please let us know. 


Australia’s Eyre Peninsula forms the distinctive triangular body of land between the Nullarbor Plain and Spencer Gulf in South Australia (SA).  The region has an interesting geography, with no rivers on its 230,000 km2. It has a considerable coastal frontage, with 254 islands and 1,800 kilometres of coastline.  The Eyre Peninsula is an ecotone, where species from eastern and western Australia meet. It supports a large number of endemic species.  

Figure 1: Map of Eyre Peninsula

Agriculture, aquaculture, tourism and mining industries, all reliant on sustainable natural resources, contribute over $2.5 billion to the economy in an average year.  Despite low rainfall and low soil fertility, around 45% of SA’s wheat and 20% of SA’s barley harvest come from the Eyre Peninsula. In addition, the region contributes 45% of the state’s seafood harvest.  Some 95% of farms are broad acre, of which 85% depend on grain growing alone, or a mix of grain and livestock farming. Given all this, the Eyre Peninsula is extremely vulnerable to a hotter, dryer future. 

Farmers use a variety of strategies to address climate risk in particular, and production risk in general. These include diversifying crop varieties, for example, planting minimal areas of risky crops (peas, canola, and vetch) and maximising the area of less risky crops (wheat), and practicing zero or minimum tillage. 

The Eyre Peninsula’s 55,000 people are distributed through 11 local government authorities, with over half the population living in just two cities - Whyalla and Port Lincoln. 

This case study explores Australia’s first cross-sectoral, integrated, regional climate change adaptation mechanism that has become an example of good practice for local governments across the nation.  This has been achieved in a remote region known for staunch climate change scepticism – an issue often identified as a barrier to local adaptation.  

Triggers for Action

The Eyre Peninsula has historically experienced climate shocks and complex decision-making requirements.  Farming communities have been resilient and resourceful in dealing with a harsh physical environment, unpredictable and volatile markets and uncertain, sometimes unhelpful, national policy and financial contexts.  

Looking back over the past three decades, there have been a number of triggers for action in the region. The first was the 1991-95 drought, which affected much of Australia. Average production by rural industries fell about 10%, with a possible $5 billion cost to the national economy. The Commonwealth government provided $590 million in drought relief between September 1992 and December 1995.  The early years of the drought coincided with interest rates in double figures, and by 1993 the farmers of the Eyre Peninsula, in common with many farming communities across Australia, were facing very difficult times. 

Frustrated at the lack of government leadership and response, the Eyre Peninsula’s community leaders got together to develop a strategy that would meet their specific need for regionally-sensitive and locally-supported solutions.  

Innovative ideas were actively sought and incorporated, notably ‘no till’ farming.  Industry development to diversify sources of income was welcomed, particularly aquaculture.  An injection of $11 million from the Australian Government stimulated a paradigm shift in farming practices and helped build resilience to future climate shocks. 

The second trigger came with a bushfire in January 2005, in which nine people died. The region took stock again, looking at land-use planning, water resource management, and community capacity to cope with disaster.  

The final trigger came when, in 2006, drought struck again. However, in 2004, a new Act of Parliament had led to the re-organisation of natural resource management in South Australia.  Regions were given management responsibilities under ministerially-appointed Boards.  The State Government required them to tackle difficult tasks: amalgamation of many existing boards and authorities, imposition of a new levy on landholders, and the development of a regional plan. 

In 2009, the Eyre Peninsula Natural Resources Management (NRM) Board presented the four-volume Eyre Peninsula Natural Resource Management Plan to the State Government; see http://www.epnrm.sa.gov.au/PolicyPlanning/OurPlan.aspx with an initial emphasis on climate change adaptation.  However, the NRM Board could not, by itself, implement the necessary planning and decision-making tasks, in terms of adaptation, through to completion.  Despite strong State Government policies, positive positioning by local government peak bodies and active interest in renewable resource projects across the region, local responses have been sluggish and fragmented.  As is so often the case, there is a disconnect between goals and outcomes.

The Eyre Peninsula Adaptation Action 

To address this disconnect, the Eyre Peninsula NRM Board organised a conference on climate change with Tim Flannery as the keynote speaker.  Using this as a consultative springboard, the Board sought to judge the responses of local people to climate change response strategies. They argued that grants were available for climate change projects but the Eyre Peninsula was not getting its fair share. A range of questions were asked, including:

• Are Eyre Peninsula communities so diverse and isolated, and the challenges so complex, that people are daunted by the scale of the task? 

• Are the climate change sceptics winning?  

In response, The Chair of the NRM Board, Brian Foster, decided to fall back on the historically effective Eyre Peninsula model of community-wide collaboration.  He called together the three major bodies on the Peninsula: local government, regional development and the NRM Board.  Together, they proposed to the State Government that a formal agreement, targeting locally-driven adaptive assessments of, and responses to, climate change, be developed – with support funding.  The Government agreed.  

The Eyre Peninsula Regional Sector Agreement was signed in August 2010 between the South Australian Minister for Sustainability and Climate Change, the NRM Board, Regional Development Australia – Whyalla and Eyre Peninsula and the Eyre Peninsula Local Government Association.  It states: 

“The Government of South Australia and the Eyre Peninsula Region are taking a collaborative approach to ensure the region is resilient to the changes resulting from climate change and to ensure its ongoing prosperity.”

The signatories entered into the Sector Agreement in order to: 

• identify and promote economic opportunities in the renewable energy industry, water, transport and infrastructure 

• recognise differences across the region and facilitate geographically specific responses to climate change 

• work together to support a better understanding of climate change risks and issues for communities 

• collaborate in efforts to undertake a regional approach to adaptive option assessments as a first step to implement the State’s first regional adaptation plan 

• better facilitate community engagement and participation in programs designed to promote behaviour change 

• explore potential for joint projects and Commonwealth funding opportunities 

• promote and showcase regional achievements as a template for other regional areas of South Austraia.


EP Adaptation Strategy
Figure 2: Priorities for research on the Eyre Peninsula (Eyre Peninsula Natural Resources Management Board n.d.) 

Cecilia Woolford, Executive Officer of the EP Integrated Climate Change Agreement (EPICCA) committee says that the Agreement is the foundation for the region’s Climate Change Research Action Plan (see Figure 2), with a work program which:

a) ensures collaborative, cross fertilised, science-informed, regionally-based decision-making; 

b) communicates and engages - both within the committee and between sectors - while keeping two governments and the wider community informed;

c) examines all current and past projects undertaken in the region by each sector, then compiles, analyses and synthesises the work so as to identify gaps and therefore leverages appropriate funding, undertaken by the most appropriate agency, for the region as a whole.

d) develops a cross-sectoral, whole-of-region adaptation plan, based on the above research and the Integrated Vulnerability Assessment (IVA) process as cited and encouraged in the State Adaptation Framework.

She says the work program has a parallel overview:  

• finding synergies: identifying shared aspirational goals that might attract support from the Federal and State governments;

• avoiding duplication: deciding who should lead in particular areas;

• identifying gaps: identifying what needs to be done and who needs to do it.

Currently funded by the National Disaster Resilience Scheme and Sector partners, work is underway to build an overarching regional masterplan as a central reference point to guide sector level adaptation planning

Conclusions and latest developments: synergies with Commonwealth activities

This case study has shown that, by deploying effective decision-making practices embedded in its history the Eyre Peninsula has come up with a simple and straightforward - yet powerful - way to manage the adaptation process as climate change escalates.  

The ground-breaking work that has been undertaken by the Eyre Peninsula is now mirrored by initiatives emerging from the Australian Government. In mid-2012, the Australian Government through the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency announced a $44 million Regional NRM Planning for Climate Change Fund to support regional NRM organisations to develop plans to guide where carbon farming projects should be located in the landscape. These can also be used by landholders to identify and develop activities to reduce carbon pollution. 

At the same time, $8 million has been made available for the NRM Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Research Grants Program, to fund partnerships between research institutions and regional Natural Resource Management (NRM) organisations.  Under the program, $8 million in funding from carbon price revenue will be provided over four years to ensure NRM organisations are informed on climate change, its impacts and potential adaptation responses.

These initiatives should help to ensure that the vision of EPICCA can be realised through access to financial and research support.

The Sector Agreement ensures regional peak bodies share their knowledge and skills with government, the gap between practitioners and policy makers is being bridged, and climate change is no longer seen as solely an environmental issue on the Eyre Peninsula.

Header image: Royston Rascals

More Information

References and further reading

Government of South Australia, Eyre Peninsula NRM Board (n.d.) ‘Climate Change Research Strategy’, available from http://www.epnrm.sa.gov.au/Portals/4/Climate%20Change/Research%20Strategy%20A4%20Flyer.pdf

Department of the Premier and Cabinet (DPC), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) and Primary Industries and Resources SA (PIRSA) (2010), ‘Regional Climate Change Projections Eyre Peninsula’ , available from http://www.sardi.sa.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/152333/ep-regional-cc-projections.pdf

Smailes, P.J., 2006: Redefining the Local: the social organisation of rural space in South Australia, 1982-2006. PhD thesis, Flinders University, see http://theses.flinders.edu.au/public/adt-SFU20061005.151832/index.html

Suppiah, R., Preston, B., Whetton, P.H., McInnes, K.L., Jones, R.N., Macadam, I., Bathols, J., Kirono, D. (2006) Climate Change under Enhanced Greenhouse Conditions in South Australia. CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Aspendale, VIC, Australia. Available from http://www.sardi.sa.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/152333/ep-regional-cc-projections.pdf