Report Synopsis

The effect of climate change on pastoralism in the Australian arid and semi-arid rangelands

Ellen Litchfield

The arid and semi-arid rangelands of Australia is one of the world’s most volatile climates. This report identifies the environmental and socio-political impacts of climate change on pastoral enterprises in the Australian rangelands and looks at ways to increase the resilience of these systems. Pastoralists are skilled in dealing with devastating droughts quenched by flooding waters and this skill will position them well for a future where droughts and flooding occur with increasing frequency. Climate modelling developed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has indicated a high likelihood that temperatures will increase, and duration in drought will also increase. Pastoralists need to recognise this risk and make plans to increase the resilience of their businesses.

The environmental effects of climate change are only one aspect of a multifaceted issue facing the red meat industry. The socio-political effects may have a greater impact in some areas then environmental changes. Policies focusing only on the efficiency of a system to produce a kilogram of protein would deprive society of a sustainable food source that works synergistically within its environment. Industry research into the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of extensive rangeland production systems needs to be undertaken. Increasing consumer understanding and promoting the positive impact livestock can have on ecosystems is vital to maintain social license.

This report highlights how producers in harsh climates across the world are working to ensure they have a system that works in harmony with their environment and capitalises on the benefits they bring to industry.

Case studies in this report demonstrate that agriculture and conservation can have a synergistic relationship ensuring both production and environmental goals are met. These producers have capitalised on the unique opportunities their environment presents by utilising climate adapted species, recognising the ecological importance of biodiversity and continual business innovation. As part of the research, the author observed how:  

  • A market was created for Bison in Northern Canada, an area with a very harsh climate;
  • Grazing cattle amongst elephants on a nature reserve in Kenya allows greater economic stability through tourism and livestock; and 
  • Producing lamb under a predator friendly certification scheme in South Africa created a value-added product.

Recognition for the ecological services that Australian pastoralists provide needs to be advocated for at industry level. Ecosystem services and carbon farming present a unique opportunity as a relatively weather-independent income for landholders. Pastoralists that live and care for rangelands worldwide are poised to capitalise on the opportunities that arise from a more ecologically engaged society.

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