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Climate Change Risk Assessment and Adaptation in Queensland – June Brundell, David Cobon and Grant Stone Queensland Climate Change Centre of Excellence

Understanding the impacts of climate change, climate variability and extreme events is challenging but necessary. The Queensland Government has responded with a number of initiatives being delivered through the Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM). Two projects aimed at assisting climate change adaptation in primary industries are firstly “Climate Change Risk Management and Adaptation” and secondly ClimateQ – Helping primary producers adapt to climate change. The aim of these projects is to increase the awareness of the risks associated with the changing climate in Queensland and to help industries and regions adapt to climate change by identifying and implementing management to reduce the impact of those risks. As part of the first project the Queensland Climate Change Centre of Excellence (QCCCE) and its partner, Department of Employment Economic Development and Innovation (DEEDI) developed a risk and vulnerability assessment process (using a risk matrix framework) which is currently being used in different primary industries and regions. This activity will be further developed and delivered between 2010 and 2014 as a part of ClimateQ.

Regional climate change projections

In order to assess the impacts of climate change, the first step was to develop regional climate change projections for the 13 regions in Queensland (Figure 1). The projections were developed by QCCCE using data supplied by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), and were based on the results from 23 global climate change models. For each region, a report was prepared showing the projected changes in temperature, rainfall, evaporation and cyclones for 2030, 2050 and 2070. The potential regional impacts are also discussed in each regional report.

Generally, across Queensland there is a prediction for temperature increases of 1-2oC; increased evaporation across the State and variable changes in rainfall patterns. These projections show that Queensland is committed to some degree of climate change. Therefore, it is imperative that we establish what the risks are to industries, to regions, and to communities; and that we start to identify methods to adapt.

Adaptation and risk assessment

Adaptation is the decision making process and actions of adjusting practices, processes and capital responses undertaken to maintain the capacity to deal with current or future predicted change. The process of adaptation is constantly undertaken, for example: governments change policies and programs to better achieve broad societal goals. The process of change can be represented in Figure 2. Risk assessment is a vital part of this process; allowing for collation of knowledge, identification and prioritisation of vulnerabilities and/or opportunities, action planning and implementation.

Risk is a hazard or chance of a loss. It is a function of consequence and likelihood. Consequences of climate change can range from minor to catastrophic when impacts are negative; however the risk assessment process can also identify opportunity, gain and positive impacts. The risk assessment matrix (see an example for the grazing industry in Table 1) has been developed as a tool which has multiple functions. It is a framework which helps both scientists and the community better understand the likely impacts, vulnerabilities and potential management strategies for climate change.

The “risk matrix” process involves a participatory approach of working with groups to identify likely climate change factors (which are displayed on the y-axis in Table 1); and key elements of the industry involved (x-axis in Table 1). The impacts are each assessed in a matrix (e.g. how increased CO2 impacts on pastures; how increased temperature impacts on pastures etc). Each cell in the matrix is populated by coming to a consensus within the group of the likely impact of that climate change factor on that element of the industry. The risk of this impact is then assessed by considering the consequences (if the impact occurred) and likelihood of the event occurring (see Table 2).

Examples for each category of consequence and likelihood are provided to assist with the assessment. If the consequence is considered “major” and the likelihood is regarded as “likely” then the impact risk is rated as “High”.

Table 1.  Grazing risk assessment matrix showing the impacts of climate change on three key elements of the grazing industry (blue cells are positive impacts and brown cells are negative impacts)

Table 2.  Impact risk is a function of consequence and likelihood

Adaptation responses are then agreed to within the group for each cell in the impact matrix. This becomes the adaptation matrix which records the potential adaptation responses or the actions which could be taken to adapt to the identified risk. For each cell the impact risk and adaptation response has now been identified. Vulnerability is then assessed as a function of impact risk and the capacity to implement the adaptive response (adaptive capacity; Table 3). For example, there will be “high” vulnerability if the impact risk is ‘high” and the adaptive capacity is “low”.

This risk and vulnerability information can then be developed into statements that describe the nature and level of a risk; the need for and timing of a response; and the nature of useful adaptation responses. The information contained in these statements can be useful for advising management and informing policy. They can result in modification of existing strategies and plans, the development of new plans, the allocation of resources and responsibilities for the plans and their implementation.

Table 3:  Vulnerability is a function of impact risk and adaptive capacity


This “risk matrix” process has been used successfully with horticulturalists, crop-growers and graziers as part of the Queensland government’s Climate Change Risk Management and Adaptation project. It has had benefits in most parts of the adaptation cycle. Firstly, it is a valuable engagement tool for use with landholders, industry groups and communities. The discussion which takes place whilst populating the matrices, allows for a two-way exchange of information. It increases the knowledge of the facilitators regarding the likely impacts of climate change which may be industry or region specific. Simultaneously, it raises awareness of the stakeholders and builds their capacity to adapt to climate change. Participants in the workshops found the process both informative and useful. Secondly, the “risk matrix” process is a simple tool to identify information that is often complex and interacting; both are problems regularly associated with climate change across most industries and regions.

The information gathered from the recent risk management meetings has been used in the form of risk statements, to assist in the development of regional plans and policy. The project has completed risk assessments for groups as diverse as lawn growers; forestry; horticulturalists; the intensive and extensive livestock producers; crop growers; the aqua-cultural industries; and recreational and commercial fishery industries. This information will also be used to further develop climate change information for the 13 regions across Queensland.

The delivery of this work will continue as part of the four-year $3.2 million ClimateQ project, which has five main areas of delivery: horticulture, cropping and grazing, fish habitat, socio-economic assessment and improving risk management and adaptation. A full account of the risk management matrix process The climate change risk management matrix for the grazing industry of northern Australia; Cobon et al. 2009) can be viewed at Further information on ClimateQ is available at

About the authors

June Brundell has a degree in Environmental Management and has spent the last 8 years working with the Government, Landcare Groups and Regional Natural Resource Management Groups across Queensland; primarily with grazing land management, land condition and community engagement. June is now working with climate change risk management.

David Cobon has worked extensively with graziers and land managers across Queensland. He has been working with Climate variability and change and its production impacts for the last 10 years. David is currently working on climate risk assessment on primary production systems.

Grant Stone has spent the last 12 years as an Agricultural Scientist with the Queensland government, involved in climate impacts and applications with respect to pasture modelling, along with the distribution and carrying capacity of livestock. Grant’s recent work has been involved in the impacts of climate change on livestock carrying capacity and the application of climate risk assessment techniques for use in rural industries.