Making time for space

the critical role of spatial planning in adapting natural resource management to climate change

V. M. Adams*, J. G. Álvarez-Romero, S. J. Capon, G. M. Crowley, A. P. Dale, M. J. Kennard, M. M. Douglas, R. L. Pressey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

10 Citations (Scopus)


Climate change is driving shifts in social-ecological systems globally. In response, humans must adapt to altered climatic and environmental conditions. While climate change adaptation is a pressing issue in many sectors and regions, the adaptation of environmental management strategies is particularly urgent because of the severity and extent of risks associated with projected impacts. Robust adaptation of environmental management requires effective spatial and temporal implementation of interventions, with explicit consideration of trade-offs between different socio-economic and environmental objectives. We investigate the critical interface between regional governance systems and spatial planning for climate adaptation by exploring the case of Australia's Natural Resource Management (NRM) bodies. Australia's NRM bodies provide an ideal case study for two reasons. First, Australia faces significant threats from current and future climate changes. Second, Australian NRM bodies have recently undertaken a major program of spatial planning and research to explicitly address the need for climate adaptation. We explore the interface between regional governance systems and spatial planning by: 1) reviewing the historical development of institutional arrangements in relation to spatial planning by Australia's regional NRM bodies; 2) documenting current planning processes with regard to climate adaptation and more generally; and 3) identifying strengths and weaknesses of the existing governance system at various scales with respect to its ability to foster effective spatial planning. We find that the institutional and resource capacity of the Australian regional NRM bodies is currently being eroded and that the national governance system is broadly failing to deliver on the intended outcomes of climate-ready NRM plans. We make recommendations for governance reform and institutional adaptation to improve spatial planning for climate adaptation in Australia and discuss the broader implications of our findings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-67
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • adaptive governance
  • conservation planning
  • natural resource management
  • climate change

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