State of the Environment 2011 Committee. Australia state of the environment 2011.
Independent report to the Australian Government Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
Canberra: DSEWPaC, 2011.
At a glance
Many of the processes being implemented by jurisdictions around Australia have the potential to build and maintain resilience of the coupled social–ecological systems that involve biodiversity and people. However, there are indications that approaches to addressing pressures are not achieving desired objectives, and that our understanding of the dynamic interactions between social, ecological and economic processes is inadequate to allow us to prioritise investment in biodiversity management for a significant number of taxa in many places around Australia. Furthermore, there is credible opinion that governance arrangements are still not appropriate to effectively engage the full range of people with contributions to make to biodiversity management.
The definition of resilience that we have used in this report is:
… the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganise while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks.
Walker et al.199 p. 1
The resilience of Australia’s genes, species, ecosystems and landscapes depends not only on the characteristics of what most people think of as ‘natural places’, but also on the human social, cultural and economic systems that depend on elements of biodiversity and affect biodiversity directly and indirectly. Various assessments in Australia and elsewhere have argued that the resilience of ecological systems cannot sensibly be considered in isolation from the human social systems that are coupled with them.200-202 The focus of the following resilience discussion is on coupled social–ecological systems.
We cannot assess resilience quantitatively, based on our current understanding and information. To an extent, this can never be possible, because neither the nature and timing of shocks nor the ways in which systems will respond can ever be fully anticipated. However, it is possible to identify aspects of coupled social–ecological systems that are likely to add to or detract from resilience, and this can help to guide long-term decision-making.
- the amount of change the system can undergo and still retain the same controls on function and structure
- the degree to which the system is capable of self-organisation
- the ability to build and increase the capacity for learning and adaptation.
These criteria in turn are based on the system’s:
- diversity (including diversity of ideas, resources, responses, skills and experience, as well as diversity of species)
- modularity (connections and redundancies between parts of the systems such that a collapse of one part does not cause collapse of the whole system)
- tightness of feedbacks (how quickly and strongly the consequences of change in one part of the system are felt and responded to in other parts).201
Aspects that contribute significantly to the above elements of resilience include levels of reserves, levels of capitals (financial, human, natural and built), leadership, overlapping institutions, social networks and trust.
The following discussion of the resilience of biodiversity and biodiversity management is based on these considerations.
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