Adapting to a changing climate

Adapting to a changing climate is one of four socially based conceptual models that describe how people interact with managing natural resources. They should be considered in association with the three conceptual models that broadly focus on the biophysical systems to get a full picture of what we know about our region.

View the adapting to a changing climate model.

About adapting to a changing climate

Climate change is recognised by the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resources Management Board as one of the key drivers of change in the region.

The strategic directions of the board are based on the best scientific evidence currently available, which is indicating:

  • the region is becoming warmer on average, consistent with South Australia’s overall 0.96°C warming between 1910 to 2005
  • the region is projected to become drier overall, although rainfall projections have a lower level of certainty attached to them than temperature projections
  • heatwaves could become more frequent and more severe, with days over 35°C in Adelaide projected to increase from their current average of 20 to 24-29 days by 2030 and to 29-57 days by 2090 (depending on the emission scenario and the model used)
  • that due to a strong projected spring warming and drying, the fire season is likely to start earlier, thereby narrowing the window for prescribed burning which helps to reduce fuel loads
  • the number of fire danger days is likely to increase, and fires may become more frequent and harder to control once they start
  • that while overall annual rainfall is projected to decrease, rainfall intensity may increase by about 11% on average (albeit from a relatively low baseline)
  • that as a result of thermal expansion of the oceans, sea levels have risen in recent times at a rate of approximately 5 mm per year; the projected sea level rise is 33 – 40 cm by 2070 and 45 – 60 cm by 2090 (relative to a 1986-2005 baseline)
  • gulf and ocean waters are warming, and are also becoming more acidic as a result of absorbing higher amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

A case study: Climate change and the resilience of inter-tidal coastal ecosystems

The potential consequences of climate change in the region are difficult to predict with a high degree of accuracy, as current models operate on global scales. However, predictions of potential impacts are still relevant, useful and important when planning activities to manage natural resources to ensure potential changes are accounted for in decision making.

Sea level rise, particularly along the northern coast of the region, has the potential to significantly impact on natural and built habitats. And so planning for the future of the area needs to take into account the requirements of the natural and built environment in the event of a worst case scenario. The challenge is working through the conflicts between the land use needs of both to ensure the system as a whole retains its resilience.

View the case study.

Climate change investigations

In order to better understand the likely impacts of climate change on managing natural resources the board has undertaken or participated in several investigations.

Climate vulnerability in the agricultural sector

In 2014–15, the board commissioned an assessment of the climate vulnerability of the agricultural sectors across the region.

These sectors are: viticulture, perennial and annual horticulture, annual cropping, extensive livestock, and dairy.

The conclusion was that a number of factors will impact on these farming practices:

  1. Warmer summers accelerate wine grape and perennial fruit development. This can shift sensitive fruit-ripening stages from a milder late summer and autumn towards a hotter mid-summer. Although options are available to deal with this shift, in the longer term some changes in the varieties used may be advisable.
  2. Winter warming means that the chilling required for perennial horticulture is reduced. This may challenge high-chill crops such as cherries.
  3. More frequent and severe extreme heat events are of greater concern than increases in average temperatures. Crop damage is likely when these events correspond with critical life-cycle stages such as wheat flowering, and apples and wine grape ripening.
  4. As rainfall decreases, growers may demand extra irrigation due to the higher evaporation associated with warmer conditions, and to ease the impacts of more frequent and extreme heatwaves.

Industry bodies and government stakeholders are being consulted to determine how these results can be used to strengthen climate resilience in the region’s most climatically vulnerable agricultural sectors.

Climate impacts on terrestrial biodiversity

Climate change is a global issue that manifests itself differently in different landscapes. For example, the rate of change is far greater in flat country than in hilly country. Climate change also interacts with existing ecological processes. The ability of biodiversity to adapt to change is reduced in landscapes that have already been significantly modified or degraded.

There are also ecosystems that are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, such as water-dependent ecosystems and sedimentary coastal systems where existing development means that there is no space for the movement (retreat) of coastal vegetation when sea level rise. This makes their current location unsuitable.

Further work is being undertaken to improve the level of detail in this report. This will support targeted on-ground action.

Other studies

Other studies that the board has been involved in are:

  • an assessment of the impact of climate change on the region’s surface water resources
  • a review of fire regime change, biodiversity implications and policy options

Climate adaptation thinking and action

The board has also participated in several climate adaptation planning projects. These are:

  • Resilient South (led by the City of Onkaparinga)
  • Resilient East (led by the City of Norwood Payneham & St Peters)
  • AdaptWest (led by the City of Port Adelaide Enfield)
  • Barossa (led by Barossa Regional Development Australia)
  • Resilient Hills and Coasts (led by Alexandrina Council)
  • Adapting Northern Adelaide (led jointly with the cities of Playford and Salisbury).

Climate change forum

As a leader in climate adaptation thinking and action in the region, the board held a climate change practitioners forum on 17 September 2015. The forum aimed to strengthen the capacity of policy makers, planners and decision makers to understand and act on the region’s key climate vulnerabilities and opportunities in a collaborative manner. It was attended by more than 100 people and featured a range of leading speakers from South Australia and interstate.

Due to time constraints, a number of questions went unanswered on the day. Responses to some of these questions have been kindly provided by the presenters.

See videos from the forum:

Morning session highlights

Afternoon session highlights

Panel session highlights

See presentations from the forum:

From projections to action: using science to point the way forward on climate change
By Darren Ray, Bureau of Meteorology

Terrestrial biodiversity adaptation: chaos to clarity?
By Andrew West, Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges

South Australia’s approach to climate change.
By Julia Grant, Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources

Towards adaptation action.
By Mark Howden, CSIRO

Plans are nothing; planning is everything, (or a real world guide to climate adaptation planning).
By Paul Ryan, Australian Resilience Centre

Green Infrastructure: creating the urban cool.
By Dr Sheryn Pitman, Botanic Gardens of South Australia

March of the (salt)marsh; planning for coastal habitat retreat - the Samphire Coast Icon Project. 
By Tony Flaherty, Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges

Funding partners

This project is jointly funded through the Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges Natural Resources Management Baord and the Australian Government.

Australian government logo


Related links

Natural Resources Adelaide and Mount Lofty Ranges