Are we adapting to climate change? A catchment-based adaptation assessment tool for freshwater ecosystems

Lukasiewicz, A. et al. | Climatic Change | 2016 | Peer Reviewed | Methodological article| Original research |


Freshwater ecosystems in many parts of the world have been severely affected by past management practices that have altered the volume, timing and quality of water flows and caused a decline in their ecological health. Some of these systems are also experiencing the negative impacts of climate change. Adaptation to climate change and the continual need to address existing ecological damage poses ongoing challenges for freshwater managers. In this paper we propose and discuss a Catchment Assessment Framework (CAF) that is used to evaluate existing and potential freshwater management actions, such as riparian revegetation and habitat connectivity, for their adaptation potential. The CAF was developed as a tool for prioritizing low risk climate change adaptation options in Australian catchment management. The CAF enables catchment managers and technical experts to assess management actions against seven inter-related criteria to provide a holistic assessment: relevance to the catchment; climate change adaptation potential, including potential for maladaptation and benefit under different climate scenarios; ecosystem service benefits; compatibility with other actions; implementation constraints; socio-economic consequences; and a risk assessment. It was developed and applied by assessing nine management options with stakeholders in three catchments within the Murray-Darling Basin in south-eastern Australia. We found that while management options are undertaken as a response to existing degradation, they can be used as building blocks for a climate change adaptation strategy that considers a range of different but complementary measures to better manage climate-related risk. The CAF enables practitioners to assess the advantages of a range of adaptation options and to subject them to their wider decision making and management planning.