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UniSA researcher learns from the rain in Spain

by Rachel Broadley

David Adamson from the University of Queensland (left) with UniSA’s Dr Adam Loch in Belpasso, Sicily.A special opportunity to attend a global summer school dedicated to water management in the era of climate change has generated a surprising synergy between Australia and Spain.

In September Dr Adam Loch (pictured above right), Early Career Development Fellow with UniSA’s School of Commerce, attended the European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists (EAERE) summer school with researchers from across the United States and Europe in Belpasso, on the Italian island of Sicily.

Dr Loch found his research on water markets and climate change adaptation in Australia had much in common with the work of two Spanish researchers, which could offer an insight into how we cope with the allocation of water in times of scarcity.

Dr Loch says the EAERE summer school looked at insurance and risk mitigation, but it also unexpectedly threw up parallels between the work being carried out in Australia and Spain.

“Water markets in Australia were put up as a way to lever the water that is necessary for the environment,” Dr Loch says.

“Eighty per cent of legal property rights to water in Australia are held by irrigators and billions of dollars a year go through these markets.

“These are very emotional, expensive, topical and sometimes controversial issues; it was a great opportunity to discuss common problems such as water scarcity and how we manage drought on different sides of the world.”

Dr Loch says Dr Carlos Mario Gómez from the Universidad de Alcalá, Madrid, and Dr Gonzalo Delacámara, researcher at the Department of Economic and Institutional Analysis at the IMDEA Water Foundation, were fascinating to talk to in terms of their insights and the huge problems they face in Spain, as well as wider Europe.

“Drought is a big issue for them, and, like us, it’s the driver that really makes things happen,” Dr Loch says. “Their insights on climate change, how they’re modelling it and reacting to it is very interesting.

“Climate change is seen as a distant threat, but then you look at drought conditions and wonder whether that’s what our environment might be like in 20 or 30 years. In which case, if this is the norm in the future, what can we learn about what we are doing now that we can change? What will we need to address before climate change becomes reality?”

Dr Loch and fellow researcher from the University of Queensland, David Adamson, together with Dr Gómez and Dr Delacámara are now hoping to organise a two-day workshop in Madrid next June to bring together Australians and Europeans to discuss common issues and ways to inform European processes.

Dr Loch says water problems in both Australia and Spain are highlighted during times of scarcity, such as drought, but water becomes less of a political issue once dry periods end.

“Climate change will probably be one of the big drivers here; the problem is when political will waxes and wanes dramatically, as it has at present. We’ve made enormous reform progress during the dry periods, particularly over the past 20 years; the future challenges are getting to grip with what climate change actually means,” he says.

“In 30 or 50 years, will a two or three-degree change in climate mean that current irrigation areas are no longer suitable? That could mean a 300 to 400km southward shift into the Great Dividing Range and then perhaps a reduction in overall water supply.

“It would be an enormous transition in existing infrastructure, communities and agriculture. Farmers are generally enormously adaptable and resilient, but if we’re facing this enormous cost and we get to do irrigation all over again, would we make the same mistakes?

“Attending the EAERE summer school was a fantastic opportunity. I’m grateful to the School of Commerce for supporting my trip, and am excited about the developments this opportunity has brought about.”

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