The changing roles of science in managing Australian droughts: An agricultural perspective

Mark Howden, Serena Schroeter, Jeffery Crimp, Ivan Hanigan

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Abstract

As the driest inhabited continent with a highly variable climate, Australia has had a long and evolving history of drought management in agriculture. This paper analyses the changing roles of science in the management of climate risk and uncertainty and how this may continue into the future. Initially science had a role in documenting the underlying nature of Australia's climate, and later broadening the understanding around the drivers of variability so as to provide useful climate forecasts and developing metrics to measure and compare the severity of extreme climatic events. Over time this has shifted to providing effective integrating approaches to enhance social cohesion, rural economies, environmental protection, health, and food security under drought conditions. Institutional responses initially framed drought as a natural disaster, for which State and Federal funding for farmers was distributed; however, the need for farmers to proactively manage climate risk and build adaptive capacity has resulted in climate variability being seen as a risk to be managed as part of normal practise. The formulation of a national drought policy in 1992 placed responsibility for adaptation and education in the hands of the farmers, where science played various roles, including the provision of training for strategic business planning and decision-making, methods of managing uncertainty as well as via delivery of climate data and methods to integrate this into meaningful information that is embedded into the social and institutional processes through which decisions are made. This policy continues to evolve and science inputs will evolve with this. In particular, we anticipate that ongoing and projected climate changes will impact on drought frequency and severity and will require science integrated with stakeholder input into developing climate adaptation practices and technologies and effective adoption paths particularly to deal with climate extremes. A key need will be science that enhances processes of engagement between science, institutions and the agricultural community and is increasingly self-reflective and self-critical.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)80-89
Number of pages10
JournalWeather and Climate Extremes
Volume3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes

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