Australia’s country towns 2050: What will a climate adapted settlement pattern look like?
This report considers the impact of anticipated climate change on Australia’s inland towns and centres to the year 2050. It examines the ways in which non-coastal settlements will be affected by the primary, secondary and tertiary impacts of climate change, including the impact of extreme climate events, a warming and drying climate over much of southern Australia and increased costs associated with both structural economic change and accelerated degradation of infrastructure. The research finds that climate change is likely to have a wide range of impacts on Australia’s system of inland settlement and that not all of these impacts are likely to be adverse. The published literature highlights the fact that some industries – including wool production, grains, viticulture and some grazing – are likely to benefit from climate change. While this is not the case in all instances, the fact that some industries will be enhanced runs contrary to both commonly held expectations and public discourse. In other sectors of the economy and society, technological change and/or investment in infrastructure will overcome many of the climate-change related challenges that have the potential to place the wellbeing of inland centres at risk.
This project found that rural and regional centres across Australia will be affected by climate change in different ways, depending upon:
- Their industry structure;
- Their geographic location, especially their degree of remoteness;
- Their climatic conditions now and in the year 2030; and,
- The resource endowments of communities – and especially their stock of human, social, physical, fiscal and economic capital.
The project reviewed the national and international literature on climate change adaptation to consider the vulnerability of individual inland centres. A vulnerability index was developed that was able to distinguish places that are more, and less, vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change. This analysis was undertaken as a first step toward better understanding the differential impacts of climate change on the inland settlement system, and with a full awareness of the critiques of such approaches. The modelling highlighted that places that are remote confront some of the greatest risks from climate change, and that many – but not all – Indigenous communities are especially vulnerable.
Detailed field work was undertaken in five case studies across Australia – Alice Springs, NT; Junee, NSW; Horsham, Victoria; Waikerie, South Australia; Moura, Queensland – in order to understand the steps taken by inland centres to plan and prepare for climate change. The research found that many persons within rural and regional communities do not accept that human-induced climate change is a reality, and that in consequence preparations for change are patchy. However, in many rural economies contemporary ‘good practice’ in farming or grazing is entirely consistent with the measures needed to plan for climate change. The fieldwork also highlighted the fact that while it is possible to model the potential impact of climate change, such measures overlook the commitment and willingness of groups to address this challenge.
Finally, we conclude that climate change will contribute to the shifting nature of Australia’s inland settlement system to the year 2050 but that it will be just one of a number of factors contributing to change. Other factors, including global markets, demographic change, the relative prosperity of individual industries, and the investment decisions of government will be important also.
Please cite this report as:
Beer, A, Tually, S, Kroehn, M, Martin, J, Gerritsen, R, Taylor, M, Graymore, M & Law, J 2013, Australia’s country towns 2050: What will a climate adapted settlement pattern look like? National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, Gold Coast, 139 pp.
Banner photo of Quorn, South Australia is copyright © Selina Tually
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