Global experts join forces to save our marine ecosystems

The Great Barrier Reef

Experts from around the world have banded together to assess the health of the planet.

University of Queensland researcher Dr Pedro Fidelman was a lead author on oceans and coastal policy for the sixth edition of the Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6), launched at the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi on 13 March.

The GEO-6 provides an independent assessment of the global state of the environment, effectiveness of policy responses to environmental problems and the possible pathways to achieve environmental goals.

Dr Fidelman, a Senior Research Fellow at UQ’s Centre for Policy Futures, said the findings will inform decision-making and action in response to the impacts of climate change on coral reefs and other marine ecosystems.

“Major environmental concerns about the impacts of human activities on the oceans include climate change, pollution and overfishing.

“Our mission was to synthesise data, information and knowledge to inform future decisions and actions on the environment, leading ultimately to positive change,” he said.

Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres said the GEO-6 is an essential check-up for our planet.

“It details both with the perils of delaying action and the opportunities that exist to make sustainable development a reality.”

GEO-6 was completed over 18 months and involved a collaboration of over 140 independent, global experts.

“We found that coral bleaching is one of the most dramatic and immediate impacts of climate change on oceans in recent years,” Dr Fidelman said.

Another finding was that resilience-based management can offset to some extent the impacts of climate change on coral reefs by tackling local and regional threats (e.g. pollution, sedimentation and overfishing).

“Resilience-based management requires a mix of policy instruments and management actions (e.g. regulation, incentives and education) relating to, for example, land use controls to improve water quality entering the reef system and spatial planning of marine protected areas.”

“But without international policies to curb carbon emissions, resilience-based management alone is unlikely to be effective, given the limits to the capacity of marine species to cope with fast warming ocean waters,” he said.

Funding was provided by the European Union and the governments of Italy, Thailand, Norway, Switzerland, Germany, China, Mexico, Denmark and Egypt.

The Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) is the flagship assessment report of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)

Media: Dr Pedro Fidelman, UQ Centre for Policy Futures, 07 3443 3139, or Kristen Johnston (HASS Communications), 07 3346 1633,

6th Global Environment Outlook

I am pleased to have been appointed as a Lead Authors for the United Nations Environment’s 6th Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6). The GEO is the UN Environment flagship integrated assessment on the state of the global environment. Drawing on all the major global assessments from international science panels and UN bodies, it presents the environmental trends for air, climate, water, land and biodiversity. The assessment looks at the interactions and feedback loops between social, economic and environmental drivers to assess the effectiveness of different policy responses in moving the world onto a more sustainable pathway. The forthcoming GEO-6 report will be presented to the United Nations Environment Ministers’ Assembly (UNEA 4) in 2019.

Pete Hay Environmental Politics Prize

My colleagues and I were honoured to win the Pete Hay Environmental Politics Prize at the 2016 Australian Political Study Association (APSA) Conference, held at the University of New South Wales, Sydney.

Since 2011 the Pete Hay Prize has been awarded annually to the best APSA conference paper on the topic of Environmental Politics or Policy.

Winner: Pedro Fidelman (University of the Sunshine Coast), Truong Van Tuyen (Hue University of Agriculture and Forestry, Vietnam), Kim Nong (Ministry of Environment, Cambodia), Melissa Nursey-Bray (University of Adelaide)

Paper: ‘Institutional Adaptive Capacity of Coastal Resources Co-Management in Cambodia and Vietnam’

Selection Panel:  Michael Howes (chair), Kate Crowley, Brian Coffey

Climate Impacts on Coral Reefs and People a “Two-Way Street”

Coral Garden
Photo: Great Barrier Reef by Richard Ling

I was part of an international research team that have developed a novel framework to help elucidate the different ways climate change can impact coral reefs and reef-depended societies.

In a paper published in the journal Regional Environmental Change, we propose that climate impacts on coral reefs and people are like a two-way street. That is, climate impacts operate in both directions, not only from environment to people – the focus of much of the research on climate change and coral reefs to date – but also from people to environment.

The “two-way street” framework emphasises how some climate impacts, such as severe tropical storms directly affect human societies with repercussions for how they interact with the environment. The framework underscores the diverse impacts that need to be considered to develop a more complete understanding of climate impacts.

Climate change is a major long-term threat to coral reefs, and is predicted to affect millions of people, particularly in developing countries, who depend on goods and services (for example, fisheries, coastal protection and tourism) provided by coral reefs.

Understanding the different ways in which climate change affects the environment and people, as well as how societal response to these impacts affect natural resources and the environment is fundamental in developing appropriate management actions in coral reef social–ecological systems.

Cinner et al. 2015. Framework for Understanding Climate Change Impacts on Coral Reef Social-Ecological SystemsRegional Environmental Change,

Institutional-Ecological Fit: New Journal Paper

Our new paper “Analysing the (mis)fit between Institutional and Ecological Networks of the Indo-West Pacific” has just been published in the journal Global Environmental Change. In this paper, we develop an innovative approach to analyse the ‘‘problem of fit’’ – one of the core constraints to effective governance in Social–Ecological Systems (SES). Such problem is based on the idea that effective SES governance depends to some extent on how the characteristics of the governance system (e.g., institutional arrangements) align with the characteristics of the ecosystem it is trying to govern. Despite the importance of the problem of fit, very few studies have quantitatively evaluated such a problem. Our paper quantifies the fit between key ecological processes and the governance structures (i.e., institutional arrangements) relating to the management of these processes. This was undertaken in the context of the geopolitically and ecologically complex region of the Indo-West Pacific where we focused on coral reefs and the transboundary corridors (i.e. ecological links), and associated institutional arrangements (e.g., treaties, conventions, agreements, and memoranda of understanding) addressing marine conservation and management. We believe that our method has the potential to assist management efforts in prioritising and strengthening governance to effectively safeguard ecological processes across multiple jurisdictions.


TREML, E.A.; FIDELMAN, P.; KININMONTH, S.; EKSTROM, J.; BODIN, O.  2015. Analyzing the (Mis)fit between Institutional and Ecological Networks of the Indo-West Pacific. Global Environmental Change, 31: 263-271; doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2015.01.012
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Mediating science and action across multiple boundaries in the Coral Triangle

We have just published a paper titled “Mediating Science and Action Across Multiple Boundaries in the Coral Triangle” in the journal Global Environmental Change. In this paper, we use boundary work to examine how stakeholders in the Coral Triangle Initiative, an international agreement between six countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, are forging relations across various domains and governance levels, and the outcomes of this process. We do this in an effort to increase its relevance to multi-level environmental governance, and understand the challenges that face such governance. We are also interested in the pathways leading to policy outcomes that are perceived as salient, credible, and legitimate to all stakeholders involved in governance. The study shows that boundary work is challenged by resource inequalities resulting in limited knowledge diversity, blurred boundaries between science and politics, and misaligned scales. We conclude that boundary work has an important temporal dimension that has often been neglected, and that literature on boundary work must provide a conceptual guide to understand tradeoffs arising as a result of stakeholders’ various strategies to engage in boundary work.

VON HELAND, F.; CRONA, B.; FIDELMAN, P. Mediating Science and Action across Multiple Boundaries in the Coral Triangle. Global Environmental Change, 29: 53-64; doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2014.08.003

You may download this paper free of charge until 7 November 2014 by clicking here.

A stakeholder analysis of the Coral Triangle Initiative

In this paper, we examine stakeholders’ efforts to design and implement a marine management policies in the context of the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI). We explore CTI stakeholders’ policy beliefs and preferences, their patterns of collaboration and trust, their access to resources and level of influence, and their views on the overall performance of the CTI. The findings suggest that the CTI is best viewed as a nascent, collaborative policy subsystem wherein there is strong support for the CTI objectives among stakeholders, convergence in policy beliefs and preferences, and instances of collaboration. However, some tensions are highlighted, which risk undermining the effectiveness and long-term sustainability of the Initiative. We argue that, as the CTI matures, it is important to maintain broad convergence in policy beliefs to prevent the formation of adversarial coalitions, and/or to avoid unilateral prioritisation of powerful global interests to the detriment of national and local priorities.

FIDELMAN, P.; EVANS, L.; FOALE, S.; WEIBLE, C.; VON HELAND, F.; ELGIN, D. 2014. Coalition Cohesion for Regional Marine Governance: A Stakeholder Analysis of the Coral Triangle Initiative. Ocean and Coastal Management, 95: 117-128; doi: 10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2014.04.001

Preventing the “tragedy of the commons”

A recent article in the Financial Times reflects on two different perspectives espoused by Garrett Hardin and Elinor Ostrom on the management of shared resources (common-pool resources). For Hardin, the only way to manage common-pool resources sustainably would be either by government or private sector control. Conversely, Ostrom demonstrated that resource users  were in fact capable of devising enduring rules to successfully manage common-pool resources upon which they depended. The FT article may be accessed at

Article on multilevel adaptation published in GEC

Another paper of ours, now on multilevel adaptation to climate change, was published in August in Global Environmental Change. Here we examine how climate change adaptation takes place in a complex multilevel system of governance, in the context of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef region. We analyse over one hundred adaptation strategies at federal, state, regional and local levels in terms of type, manifestation, purposefulness, drivers and triggers, and geographic and temporal scope. We also investigate interactions between strategies both at the same level of governance and across governance levels.

FIDELMAN, P.I.J.; LEITCH, A.M.; NELSON, D.R. 2013. Unpacking Multilevel Adaptation to Climate Change in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Global Environmental Change, 23(4): 800-812; doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2013.02.016

Human Ecology article on scenarios as research tool

Human EcologyOur article on alternative scenarios as a way to explore potential futures in the context of climate change is now available on-line in Human Ecology. In the article, we develop four alternative future scenarios for the Great Barrier Reef and its fishing and tourism industries positing moderate and more extreme warming for 2050 and contrasting ‘limited’ and ‘ideal’ ecological and social adaptation. We also asses  key stakeholder groups’ perception of the viability of different social adaptation options to deliver desirable outcomes under varied contexts.

EVANS, L.; HICKS, C.; FIDELMAN, P.; TOBIN, R.; PERRY, A. 2013. Future scenarios as a research tool: investigating climate change impacts, adaptation options and outcomes for the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Human Ecology; doi: 10.1007/s10745-013-9601-0
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