Degree Name

Master of Science - Research


School of Earth & Environmental Sciences


As a result of the seriousness and intensification of the impacts of climate change, the study of adaptation and adaptive capacity has become more necessary. Most such studies have focused in Australia on the urbanised and coastal areas, but have not yet been extended to desert areas. This thesis examines the implications of, and adaptive capacity to, climate change for desert areas. In order to cover the Australian arid and semi-arid areas within this study, this research uses the town of Mildura as an example of a semi-arid area while the town of Broken Hill is used as an example of an arid area.

Although different models have been developed in order to obtain an accurate measure of adaptive capacity, the problems of simplistic measures of adaptive capacity still present a major obstacle for achieving an accurate assessment of adaptive capacity to climate change. Several indicators of adaptive capacity to climate change have been used in a variety of studies. However, this research argues that the selection of the best possible indexes of adaptive capacity in a specific region requires the identification of the climate stimuli and driving forces of social vulnerability within this region. This thesis indicates that the selection of three indicators (the demographic, socioeconomic and government policy indicators) of adaptive capacity is suitable in the two desert towns of Mildura and Broken Hill. Whilst a decline in rainfall and increases in temperature represent climate stimuli, the socioeconomic, demographic and government policy factors represent the driving forces of social vulnerability to climate change in these two towns.

Findings show that both towns have been affected by climate change, especially the impacts of climate change on water resources. The adaptive capacity of the town of Mildura can be considered high compared to that of Broken Hill. Furthermore, this research identifies several problems associated with applying the indicators of adaptive capacity: the difficulties in application of indicators in different contexts; difficulties in identification of appropriate scale; and uncertainty in measurement. In addition, there is uncertainty in predicting future adaptive capacity by using the current indicators. Moreover, the indicators do not discriminate between climate elements (such as temperature, rainfall, evaporation and wind) which have different individual impacts in different regions. Based on these findings, the argument is advanced that ‘measurable indicators’ are not appropriate to achieve an accurate measure of adaptive capacity to climate change. Instead, a more contextual approach is advocated.