Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Research targets drought impact

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The potential economic impact of climate change-driven drought on rural communities and how to plan for it is the subject of new research.
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Research co-leaders Dr Lynn Riggs of Motu Economic and Public Policy Research and Dr Kendon Bell of Landcare Research are investigating the effect of climate change-driven drought on vulnerable communities.

They will use historical data to establish a broad brush relationship between drought intensity and economic measures like farm profits and rural unemployment.

The research will use climate predictions from NIWA to simulate future implications of climate-driven drought on farms and communities.

It will use those predictions and information from what has happened during past droughts to consider what might happen in the future to things like local spending, income, wages and employment. It will examine where labour goes and whether it returns along with what drought does to agriculture, food production, land values and debt.

Riggs said her aim is to understand what happens to people at ground zero then how those impacts reverberate out to others in their communities.

She expects the first to feel the effects will be farm workers as farmers tighten their belts and the impact will spread from there.

The research will improve the ability to plan for and avoid the worst should climate change-driven drought become a reality.

It will provide information for decision makers to use if they need to weigh up where the best places are to target efforts to address the ripple effect of reduced farmer spending.

NZ’s agricultural land is highly valued and part of the reason for that is the mild, moist climate. A changing climate, including worse or more frequent droughts, poses a big risk to those land assets and, therefore, makes rural communities vulnerable.

“Vulnerable communities will be most at risk when climate change comes to bear. 

“Drought, in particular, is a really complex issue and has a massive web of inter-related impacts. 

“My job in this project is to figure out how rural businesses, local economies and farming communities will be economically and personally affected by climate-driven drought.”

Parts of NZ that have experienced more frequent drought in the past may be better placed to deal with it in the future compared to parts that have not because those experiences may help them be better prepared for what could happen.

Although Riggs and Bell will look at similar overseas research to see what approaches were used, their 12-month project will focus on NZ data.

There has been very little research into the implications of climate change on NZ society using approaches that measure the historical relationship between weather and economic and social outcomes.

Bell said the rural sector is very important to NZ and no other group’s livelihood depends so heavily on the weather and climate.

“Rural communities may bear a large share of the burden of reducing emissions and our job is to try and understand, using real financial data, the size of the additional burden (or benefit) that climate change might impose.”

Once they have done the research Riggs and Bell will meet stakeholders, including rural representatives, to discuss their findings and ensure they are relevant and practical.

The information will then be rolled out in a variety of ways so that it can be accessed by as wide an audience as possible.

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