Agriculture and mining

Pineapple fields with wind turbine background

Pineapple fields with wind turbine background

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Primary industries (agriculture, fisheries, forestry and mining industries) are some of the most sensitive sectors to climate risk.

Agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries contribute to approximately three per cent of the Australian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 14 per cent (A$31 billion)1 of Australia’s total industry exports.

Mining contributes to approximately eight per cent of GDP but almost 43 per cent (A$117 billion) of Australia’s total industry exports.

The expected negative economic impacts of climate change on primary industries are likely to be made worse by the positive impacts expected in many of our competitor trading nations.

CSIRO has been working with primary industries, enterprises and communities to adapt to climate change by:

  • providing practical adaptation strategies that will ensure the long term viability of rural enterprises and communities threatened by climate change
  • exploring adaptation options and tools for agriculture, forestry, fisheries and mining industries and communities that can assist policy makers to minimise negative consequences of climate change and take advantage of new opportunities
  • developing new management techniques and technologies that enable industries and enterprises to adapt to climate change.

Research areas

To increase the capability of primary industries to adapt to a variable and changing climate, and to inform decision making.

CSIRO research has focused on four key areas:

  1. quantifying the vulnerability of different agricultural and mining industries and communities to climate change, assessing the likely limits to adaptation, and how adaptation can be achieved
  2. developing new technologies and practices to respond to changed climate conditions and carbon dioxide levels and providing improved analysis and delivery approaches for better management of climate variability
  3. identifying when transformational change may be needed, what the options are and their consequences and how to support decision making processes
  4. assessing the potential risks for greenhouse gas mitigation projects (such as tree plantations) from the impacts of a changing climate as well as ensuring that adaptation actions do not increase the national emissions footprint.

Climate impacts and how to adapt

What climate change impacts are primary industries facing?

Climate changes seem to be happening faster than expected, especially in southern Australia, where there have been recent long-term declines in rainfall.

The changes that are already happening are consistent with expected, larger changes in the future, and are due to human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.

The projected ongoing changes in rainfall, temperature and other climate factors will likely severely challenge Australian agriculture, resulting in lower production of key foods and fibres that will increasingly be in demand in the world.

Importantly, the changes we have already seen have had significant and generally negative impacts on agriculture in southern Australia. So, while our farmers are resilient and capable, they are still sensitive to climate risks.

However, not all the changes have been negative. In a few areas, lower rainfall has reduced waterlogging, nutrient leaching and other problems associated with too much water.

The mining industry is likely to be facing impacts from climate change in the form of hotter, drier and extreme weather events (such as storms and flooding) resulting in increased operational and maintenance costs.

Although most stages of mining are typically already influenced by climate and extremes, the production stage is most at risk from climate change.

Climate change, combined with other issues such as population growth, reduced availability of natural resources and changes in consumption patterns, puts more pressure on Australia’s primary industries and the communities that support them.

How can primary industries adapt to climate change?

Adaptation is simply changing management practices, technologies, institutions and expectations to fit the prevailing or projected climate.

Adapting primary industries effectively will not only offset negative impacts of climate change, but will allow producers to take advantage of opportunities afforded by our changing climate.

Adaptation can occur at many scales. Technical and managerial adaptations in existing systems can have significant positive outcomes.

For example, in cropping systems under projected climate changes, implementing technical and managerial adaptations, could increase yields by about 15 per cent above what they would otherwise have been.

In the Australian wheat industry alone, this could be worth between A$150 million and A$500 million per annum.

The opportunities for these in-system adaptations are limited, and transformative options such as changes in policy, land use and resource allocation are also critical to the ongoing viability and success of the sector.

These options will not only reduce the residual impacts of climate change, but will identify and multiply opportunities for primary industries.

Industries and communities

This area of research aims to quantify the vulnerability of different agricultural and mining industries and communities to climate change.

Research also assesses the likely limits to adaptation and how these can be dealt with to achieve effective adaptation.

This portfolio of research has included:

  • Developing agribusinesses more resilient to climate change: A national project researching practical management solutions with croppers and graziers.
  • Assessing the capacity of rural communities to adapt to climate change: ways to quantify the adaptive capacity and vulnerability of Australian rural communities to climate change in order to show where action can be taken to build strength and opportunity in the face of future constraints.
  • Exploring how to adapt dairy enterprises to climate change: working with Australian dairy farmers in northern Victoria to explore the likely effects of climate change and how dairy enterprises can implement adaptation options.
  • Developing climate change adaptation strategies for farming communities in Cambodia, Laos, Bangladesh and India: research conducted with local farming communities in collaboration with Asian research institutes provided farming options designed to increase the ability of smallholder farmers to adapt to the impacts climate variability and change.
  • Impacts of climate change on the mining sector and the surrounding communities: This project identified existing vulnerability of the mining and exploration industries to climate factors and explore and prioritised the technical adaptation options. The social research component of the work involved examining issues around perceptions, attitudes and decision making processes in the industry and associated communities.
  • Adaptation options for the beef industry: this project mapped climate risk in Australia’s rangelands and worked with the beef industry to develop options for choosing ideal locations to provide best future outcomes. The research team engaged farmers in group discussions on natural resource management issues and evaluated the impacts of these activities on farmers’ knowledge.
  • Impacts and adaptation for forestry: modelling impacts of climate change on pests and productivity in forests to develop a monitoring and research strategy for examining options for the forest industry to adapt.
  • Adapting aquaculture and wild fisheries: this project examined the biophysical, social and economic implications of climate change for fisheries in Australia’s south eastern region and facilitated the preparation and adaptation of the sectors to these future changes. It provided frameworks, tools and knowledge that can be applied across Australia at a national level and also at a regional level. Previous work has involved working with the Tasmanian salmon and rock lobster fisheries analysing the impacts climate change will have and options to adapt.
  • How the wool industry can adapt to climate change: in New South Wales, assist wool growers’ long term planning by providing modelled information on the effects of climate change on pasture & livestock productivity as well as assessments of the scope for adaption to these changes. Provide proof of concept of techniques for deriving and communicating modelling projections and assessments of adaption to woolgrowers.
  • Assessing vulnerabilities of Asia-Pacific countries.

New technologies and practices

This area of research is about developing new technologies and practices that will enable land managers to respond to changed climate conditions, including increased carbon dioxide levels and increased temperatures.

The research provided improved analysis and delivery approaches for better management of climate variability.

This portfolio of research has included:

  • Climate-ready crops: wheat, sorghum and sugarcane breeds adapted to climate change. Research examining existing varieties, traits and production systems to advise on suitable geographical shifts. The project also identified breeding program requirements and genetic materials with improved responses to higher temperature, less water and elevated carbon dioxide, and more suitable flowering times in the season. Learn more with Crops ready for a different future climate.
  • Testing seasonal climate forecasting technology on irrigation farms for water supply and demand. Learn more about Seasonal forecasting for irrigators.
  • New technologies for identifying hot spots and ecosystem characteristics (for example, remote sensing of plant health related to forestry pests).
  • Polymer (plastic) films for maintaining micro-climates around crops.

Major adaptative changes and mitigation options

This area of research is aimed at identifying transformational adaptation options and assessing links between mitigation and adaptation options.

This portfolio of research includes:

  • Australian primary industries transforming for a changing climate is a long-term research project working to understand how primary industry businesses, communities and sectors can transform their practices to adapt to climate change. CSIRO has worked with a number of partners from wine, grain, fisheries, dairy, sugarcane, peanut, rice and livestock enterprises as well as mining and rural community groups.
  • Examining how members of the peanut industry are tackling transformational change by moving from Queensland to Northern Territory.
  • The tipping points and characteristics required for the process of change in communities.
  • The potential risks to greenhouse gas mitigation projects (such as tree plantations) from the impacts of a changing climate as well as ensuring that adaptation actions do not increase the national emissions footprint. This work included a systemic review of promising adaptation options across primary industries and the likely Greenhouse Gas mitigation options and environmental implications of each option.


1. Data from ABARES:
Stokes C & Howden M. (eds). 2010. Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change: Preparing Australian Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries for the Future. CSIRO PUBLISHING. 296 pp.