Anticipating the future: today’s solutions, tomorrow’s problems? A case study exploring the capacity of institutional responses to complex environmental problems to achieve their objectives

Greenfield, Rachel Nanette (2009). Anticipating the future: today’s solutions, tomorrow’s problems? A case study exploring the capacity of institutional responses to complex environmental problems to achieve their objectives PhD Thesis, School of Integrative Systems, The University of Queensland. doi:10.14264/uql.2018.268

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Author Greenfield, Rachel Nanette
Thesis Title Anticipating the future: today’s solutions, tomorrow’s problems? A case study exploring the capacity of institutional responses to complex environmental problems to achieve their objectives
School, Centre or Institute School of Integrative Systems
Institution The University of Queensland
DOI 10.14264/uql.2018.268
Publication date 2009-06-01
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Bob Beeton
Bradd Witt
Total pages 426
Subjects 06 Biological Sciences
Abstract/Summary Over time the impact of human interactions upon the natural environment has revealed changes to the condition and structure of the landscape. Practices which were once deemed to be suitable to natural conditions have since been recognised as having caused degradation to land, water, soils, and impacted upon floral and faunal biodiversity. In response to evidence of ecological declines, a range of institutional and management responses have been implemented, evolving to become a complex and fragmented environmental legal and management system. The purpose of this study was to examine the effectiveness of institutional responses as solutions to environmental problems. It did this through a case study exploration of the development, implementation, and administration of regulatory changes to the management of native vegetation in Queensland. These reforms were introduced to meet electoral commitments to address the high land clearing rates in light of scientific evidence of the association between this activity and the symptoms of degradation. Specifically, the study investigated whether these reforms would achieve their designed objectives without perverse impacts upon the ecological, economic, or social sustainability in semi-arid rangelands of south-west Queensland. The Pressure-State-Response (PSR)/ Driving Force-Pressure-State-Impact-Response (DPSIR) Models and the principles of Ecologically Sustainable Development (ESD) provided the foundation for the formation of the case study research questions to examine this complex real world environmental problem, and the attempts made to achieve its resolution. These questions focused upon each element of the Models. Hence, five research questions guided this investigation: 1. What is the condition of the environment in south-west Queensland? 2. What are the major pressures upon the condition of the environment? 3. How effectively have institutional responses to address the environmental problem been implemented? 4. What are the social, economic, and environmental impacts of the response in the case study region? 5. Was the response designed to maximise its potential effectiveness without unintended consequences (impacts)? Five research cycles were employed to gather and verify data required to explore these questions. Firstly, published knowledge, science, and best-practice approaches to decision making were highlighted through literature examinations. Focus groups then identified priority issues for further exploration. Interviews facilitated the in-depth investigation of problems and the testing of assumptions. Practical and on-ground conditions, practices, and issues were subsequently detailed in ethnographic studies, and emerging research and system changes reviews presented the context to the matters being explored. Through this process of data collection, triangulation, and verification, collectively, this case study investigation found that: • despite extensive research and investment into science and knowledge, environmental problems in the case study area persist, due to the combined impacts of natural and induced pressures; • the introduction of domestic grazing and permanent waters into an area ill-equipped to handle it led to the transformation of the semi-arid landscape, whilst the changes which have become apparent have been attempted to be resolved by the landholders who inherited them; • the on-ground responses to degradation are influenced by an evolving, multifaceted, and multi-jurisdictional framework of policies, laws, and strategies which comprise the environmental legal system, and are implemented at international, national, jurisdictional, local, and property levels; • Queensland’s native vegetation framework is one of the more recent additions to this system, and whilst well intended, its design and implementation has been criticised as poorly reflecting best practice approaches; • regulatory deficiencies have the potential to limit the effectiveness of native vegetation reforms and the achievement of desired legislated objectives, and have the potential to compounding environmental, social, and economic problems in the case study region. However, it is argued that had a best practice approach to institutional response design and implementation been followed, this would have provided the opportunity to anticipate future problems, and allowed them to be addressed through the development and implementation of complementary tools and strategies. Furthermore, where institutional responses anticipate and address perversities as they occur, this can ensure that potential solutions to complex problems are capable of maximising the achievement of desired objectives without unacceptable impacts. Consequently, in order to identify and prevent the undesired outcomes predicted for the case study region, and to maximise the effectiveness of policy and institutional responses, problems need to be correctly defined, and appropriate responses generated. Hence, the thesis is: Where institutional reforms to solve environmental problems are not designed,implemented, and administered effectively, they will create negative ecological,economic, and social impacts. Policy design must be capable of conceptualizing and responding to possible and probable outcomes. However, and despite the knowledge, science, and information to do this already being available to guide decision making processes, the exploration of the case study demonstrated that institutional responses can still be potentially ineffective. This may be due to the complexity of issues needing to be considered, and the lack of guiding processes and tools to assist decision makers undertake this multidisciplinary activity. To resolve this dilemma, an adapted model has been created. The “Anticipatory, Sustainable, and Precautionary Institutional Response Evaluation (ASPIRE) Model” incorporates the findings and lessons from this study, and the elements which need to be considered in decision making. Through the utilisation of this model as a framework for examining complex problems, and developing and evaluating proposed solutions, the replication of the negative and perverse impacts of institutional responses which are anticipated for the case study can be prevented in the future. This will be achieved where the model is utilised by decision makers to guide the process for policy development and solution design in all sectors which attempt to address complex problems in multifaceted management environments.
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Created: Wed, 04 Nov 2009, 03:03:11 EST by Ms Rachel Greenfield on behalf of Library - Information Access Service