Risk analysis of the governance system affecting outcomes in the Great Barrier Reef

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Dale, AP, Vella, K, Pressey, RL, Brodie, J, Gooch, M, Potts, R & Eberhard, R 2016, 'Risk analysis of the governance system affecting outcomes in the Great Barrier Reef', Journal of Environmental Management, vol. 183, no. 3, pp. 712-721.

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The state and trend of the Great Barrier Reef's (GBR's) ecological health remains problematic, influencing United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) statements regarding GBR governance. While UNESCO's concerns triggered separate strategic assessments by the Australian and Queensland governments, there has been no independent and integrated review of the key risks within the overall system of governance influencing GBR outcomes. As a case study of international significance, this paper applies Governance Systems Analysis (GSA), a novel analytical framework that identifies the governance themes, domains and subdomains most likely to influence environmental and socioeconomic outcomes in complex natural systems. This GBR-focussed application of GSA identifies governance subdomains that present high, medium, or low risk of failure to produce positive outcomes for the Reef. This enabled us to determine that three “whole of system” governance problems could undermine GBR outcomes. First, we stress the integrative importance of the Long Term Sustainability Plan (LTSP) Subdomain. Sponsored by the Australian and Queensland governments, this subdomain concerns the primary institutional arrangements for coordinated GBR planning and delivery, but due to its recent emergence, it faces several internal governance challenges. Second, we find a major risk of implementation failure in the achievement of GBR water quality actions due to a lack of system-wide focus on building strong and stable delivery systems at catchment scale. Finally, we conclude that the LTSP Subdomain currently has too limited a mandate/capacity to influence several high-risk subdomains that have not been, but must be more strongly aligned with Reef management (e.g. the Greenhouse Gas Emission Management Subdomain). Our analysis enables exploration of governance system reforms needed to address environmental trends in the GBR and reflects on the potential application of GSA in other complex land and sea-scapes across the globe.

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