Integrating adaptation pathways with Seascapes governance in a resource-cursed Papua New Guinea

Dr James Butler1

1CSIRO Land & Water, Brisbane, Australia


Adaptation pathways is the practice of decision-making which sequences actions over time to account for rapid change and future uncertainty to achieve climate-resilient development. However, in developing countries pathways practice is hampered by a lack of stakeholder capacity and complex political dynamics, often driven by a ‘resource curse’ of super-abundant natural resources in global demand. In this study we re-focussed adaptation pathways practice towards addressing the systemic issues of politics in decision-making. We present the example of the Bismarck Sea in Papua New Guinea, which is a priority ‘seascape’ under the Coral Triangle Initiative due to its high ecological, cultural and economic values, and escalating tensions between private and public stakeholders who hold these values, caused by rapid resource exploitation. We used live examples of large scale development proposals (e.g. oil palm, tourism, seabed mining) as catalysts to expose current decision-making actors and mechanics, and the politics and institutions that shape them. We established a multi-stakeholder learning process around each development proposal to assess its potential implications for the seascape’s trajectory relative to stakeholders’ aspirational vision for the system, and the Sustainable Development Goals. This paper reflects


James is a sustainability scientist with a background in agricultural economics and natural resource governance gained in southern Africa, Europe and Australia. He joined CSIRO in 2006, and is based in Brisbane as a Senior Scientist. His research analyses complex development problems in the Asia-Pacific, with a focus on regional security and climate compatible development. He applies concepts of social-ecological systems, resilience, transformation and well-being to explore alternative futures through participatory action research. James enjoys integrating the varied knowledge of science disciplines, communities and policy-makers to generate systems understanding, innovation and change.


The Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG) is the principal body representing geographers and promoting the study and application of geography in Australia. It was founded in 1958 and since then has promoted, supported and defended Australian geography.

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