Whitsunday Industry Resilience

Whitsunday Industry Resilience

Andrew Buckwell - Environmental and Resource Economist at Griffith University


Resilience is a socio-ecological concept that refers to both the ability of a system to withstand and recover from a shock and the ability to adapt to a change in the background environment by shifting to a new, more resilient state. In the context of climate change adaptation, it is:

  • the capacity of the community to experience a shock (e.g. a cyclone) by withstanding or avoiding damage, then efficiently and effectively recovering from damage, or
  • how that community adapts to a shock or slow onset changes (e.g. changing rainfall patterns), or just the threat of a shock, to reduce its future vulnerability or exposure.

Resilience incorporates three capacities:

  • absorptive capacity – the amount of change a system can withstand while retaining function and structure;
  • adaptive capacity – the amount of adjustment a system can make; and
  • transformative capacity – the ability to create a new state when return to the initial state is no longer possible or desirable.

Building resilience into industry requires a systems-based approach. Approaches that are locally-led and specific to the needs of community sectors will support effective adaptation. These locally-led approaches need to be embedded regimes of supportive or enabling policy.

The Queensland Government released Agriculture and Tourism Sector Adaptation Plans in 2017 and 2018 respectively which set out a range of adaptation strategies that increase resilience.

These plans help to prioritise climate change adaptation activities at a state level. Growcom has conducted a Climate Risk Assessment focusing on Bowen that considers risks and looks at adaptation options. 

This research looks specifically at two key Whitsundays industries, agriculture (sugarcane, grazing and horticulture) and tourism.


The Whitsunday Industry Resilience Project was undertaken to give Council and the Whitsunday Climate Change Innovation Hub (the ‘Hub’) the key information about perceptions within key industries in the region of the risks from climate change and their capacity to build resilience.

Key climate change risks for the agriculture sector include changing rainfall regimes and extreme weather patterns and the potential increased incidence of prolonged heat episodes making drought conditions more acute.  These impacts will alter pasture and crop productivity, forage quality and there is likely to be increased animal welfare issues and diseases from increased heat.

Key climate risks for tourism beyond the risks to key natural assets include higher summer temperatures which are likely to make the region unfavourable to tourism visitors.


Interviews have been completed with local businesses representing the sugarcane, grazing, horticulture and tourism sectors. 

35 respondents completed the survey – 12 from the tourism industry and 23 from agriculture (14 sugarcane growers, 3 graziers, 4 horticulturalists, and 1 other).

The sample size was limited resulting in high margins for error but through the combination of both quantitative and qualitative data, reasonable conclusions could be inferred from this data.


The Hub worked with researchers and students from James Cook University and Griffith University. 


The project aimed to:

  •  Provide a literature review of industry resilience to the impacts of climate change.
  •  Determine how industry representatives in the region perceive risk and opportunities presented by climate change.
  •  Assess the level of progress towards adaptation in each industry.
  • Determine what role WRC and the Hub can play in assisting these industries to adapt and respond to climate change.


Whilst industry-specific assessment tools are available for individual industries and sectors, broader system resilience can also be tested against more qualitative attributes, which characterise resilient systems (Table 1).

Such characteristics should guide high level strategy to increase resilience. Where these conditions exist, greater resilience of all sectors can be maintained.

Table 1: Characteristics of resilient systems

Characteristic Explanation/example
Strong asset base to respond to evolving circumstances Assets includes a solid stock of natural, productive, financial, social, and human capital.
High level of economic diversity Diversity is in terms of access to assets, access to social and information networks, voices included in decision-making, and the availability of different economic opportunities.
Equal and inclusive, embedded in an institutional environment System should allow fair access and entitlement to key assets and should not distribute risk in a biased or imbalanced way.
High level of institutional connectivity at different scales Connectivity should be over geographic, as well as administrative scales, meaning that information and learning propagates up and down these scales.
Built-in ability to collect, analyse and disseminate information relevant for risk management These functions should be able to assimilate different forms of knowledge (including both traditional and scientific knowledge) to anticipate and manage change. 
An enabling environment to take advantage of new opportunities Should foster innovation, experimentation, and the ability to explore niche solutions.
Introduce elements of redundancy This allows some elements of a system to collapse during a crisis without the whole system collapsing.
Support a high degree of social cohesion and capital This supports individuals to draw upon collective social capital.
Industry resilience Consultation summary


Get Involved

Read the Industry Resilience Study final report here.

To find out more about the project, please contact the Whitsunday Climate Change Innovation Hub on 1300 972 753 or via email at ClimateHub@whitsundayrc.qld.gov.au.

Read the Queensland Government's sectoral adaptation plans here.