Natural resources governance for the drylands of the Murray-Darling Basin

Marshall,Graham R.
Stafford Smith,D. Mark
CSIRO Publishing
Publication Year: 
Critiques of governance arrangements for natural resource management in Australia have expanded rapidly in recent years. Meanwhile, arguments have strengthened internationally that drylands share characteristics that justify a specific drylands syndrome' understanding of their management. These issues converge in the drylands of the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB). We explore in this paper the insights that this convergence offers for designing governance arrangements for the natural resources of the MDB. We argue that the characteristics of the MDB drylands justify transformation of these arrangements to those of adaptive governance; and more specifically that this model of governance should be founded on the related concepts of polycentricity and subsidiarity. We explain how three aspects of polycentric governance contribute to the robustness of social-ecological systems and identify the particular relevance of each to the MDB drylands. Even so, transformation to polycentric governance would face formidable obstacles from vested interests and mental models that have adapted to the status quo. Acknowledging the reality that hurdling such obstacles requires strategic preparation to exploit windows of opportunity, we propose several pragmatic steps to be followed in strategically pre-adapting the MDB drylands for this transformation. Although transforming to adaptive governance is not without risk, we argue that the risks of inaction for the MDB drylands are greater.
Name of Journal: 
The Rangeland Journal
Resource Type: 
Document Type: 
Journal Issue/Article
Australian Rangeland Society

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