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Williams College

Publication Date

Fall 2014

Program Name

Australia: Sustainability and Environmental Action


Currently, most approaches to decision-making in response to climate change have been based on biophysical knowledge, even though climate change is an inherently social dilemma. Social resilience involves communities’ ability to mitigate and prepare for the effects of climate change and recover to an improved state. Professor Allan Dale and his colleagues at the Cairns Institute at James Cook University developed a framework for social resilience based on four attributes: (1) Economic Viability, (2) Community Knowledge, Aspirations, and Capacity, (3) Community Vitality, and (4) Governance. They are using this framework to evaluate and monitor Far North Queensland and Torres Strait (FNQ&TS). Regional decision-makers use the profiles created for each subregion to prioritise and develop strategies to improve each attribute.

The first goal of my research was to update and refine the most recent social resilience profile for the Northern Gulf, a subregion of FNQ&TS. I created a table with new evidence, conclusions, and suggested changes in assigned ratings for each sub-attribute of the framework. I analyzed available literature, reports, and media and conducted three interviews. I found a slight decrease in all attributes except Governance, which has improved due to increased connectivity between regional institutions and organizations. I then identified strategies and adaptations to improve social resilience, such as educational and skill-building opportunities, research into potential sustainable farming and pastoral practices, adoption of the precautionary principle, increased service accessibility, and collaborative governance arrangements.

My findings support the prioritization of improved natural disaster management in FNQ&S as a whole. Current funding arrangements over-invest in recovery and under-invest in mitigation. The Productivity Commission recently released a draft report on Australia’s natural disaster funding arrangements. The second goal of my project was to write a policy paper that will be used in negotiations regarding natural disaster funding arrangements. I conducted content analysis of relevant documents and three interviews. The common concerns with the current arrangements and the Commission’s recommendations include inefficient processes, lack of financial support and underinvestment in mitigation. Common goals include community engagement and awareness, support for local business, and effective governance. I used this information to outline a policy agenda of social, economic, and environmental adaptations. However, it is vital that there is an effective system of trilateral governance to support these strategies and adaptations, which will necessarily improve the social resilience of FNQ&TS.


Agricultural and Resource Economics | Climate | Growth and Development



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