Relational values of the Murray Darling Basin: A literature review

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Jackson, Sue
Wyborn, Carina
Annand-Jones, Ruby
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This report presents a review of literature on ‘relational values’ in the Murray Darling Basin (MDB). Relational values represent the principles, preferences, and virtues associated with individual and collective relationships to nature (Chan et al. 2016). Relational values encompass, rather than separate, value categories that are typically referred to as social or cultural. Importantly, proponents of the concept see relational values as derivative of relationships and responsibilities that shape how people engage with, and care about, nature. Profiling relational values enables the conversation about why people care about the MDB to move beyond the binary economic versus environmental values discourse, that dominates debates about water policy and marginalises some of the ways that people value the Basin. Principle Observations Our review finds that the MDB is valued in diverse ways, by a growing diversity of people who live in or have interests in the region. The literature reviewed here highlights wide ranging ways in which people relate to the Basin’s rivers and waterways and the benefits they derive from connections to nature and to each other. The dualistic economic vs environmental values discourse supports a zero-sum mentality that fails to recognise inter-related values reported here and their complex dependencies on water and healthy ecosystems. We distilled six key themes that recurred across the literature: (i) Connectivity (ii) Reciprocity (iii) Scale (iv) Agrarian sentiment (v) Conflict, and (vi) Climate Change. The first three of these themes are highly interdependent, illustrating the deeply rooted connections to waterways and community of both First Nations and non-Indigenous residents in the Basin. Such connections generate a strong sense of local attachment, despite reported perceptions that community voices, particularly those of First Nations, are marginalised in broader governance of the Basin. In part, this unequal position was attributed to the perceived dominance of agrarian sentiment and interests in influencing decision-making and wider structural forces. Agricultural interests remain prominent particularly those of the irrigation sector, despite evidence to suggest that a transition to multi-functional landscapes is underway with other land and water uses and associated social constituencies slowly growing in importance. Water reform processes were seen to have exacerbated real or perceived conflict across communities of place, identity, or interest, while also fostering a sense of mistrust in Basin governance. Finally, there is a growing body of literature considering climate change (the risks, impacts and adaptation strategies), with studies on the varied impacts of drought, alongside critiques of how climate change has been handled within the current governance regime being most prominent within this literature. A number of gaps in the literature were identified, both in terms of populations and topics to be considered. We suggest there is a need to expand the focus from agricultural/rural landholders to consider the relationships maintained by a greater diversity of people living in the Basin: migrant communities, youth, women, urban residents. There are very few studies of groundwater, and demographic transitions, with more work to be done on the hydro-social implications of the land-use transitions underway. It was too soon for COVID19, and its implications for migration, community relations and demands on services to feature in the literature. Finally, the focus of climate change literature needs to expand beyond drought and water scarcity issues to further consider heatwaves, floods and the uneven social impacts of climate change (particularly for First Nations and other vulnerable groups). Further work on how climate change is likely to impact the relational values reported here is a significant undertaking that would provide the foundation for research into and policy development to support adaptation for communities, industries, and economies. 5 Review method The review was structured according to the typology of values developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Values Assessment, specifically focusing on the relational values within their typology (2016; 2022). IPBES conceptualises relational values as the foundational values for a ‘good quality of life’: the achievement of a fulfilled human life which, alongside access to food, water, energy, and livelihood security, comprises health and well-being, social relationships and equity, cultural identity, freedom of choice and action, and the capacity to live in harmony with nature (Diaz et al. 2015). The conceptual work on multiple values carried out by IPBES emerges from acknowledged difficulties in defining, articulating, and measuring social and cultural values – a problem shared by the MDBA. Literature was sourced through a search of academic databases structured using the 11 relational value categories in the IPBES framework: security and livelihoods; sustainability and resilience; diversity and options; living well and in harmony with nature and Mother Earth; health and well-being; education and knowledge; identity and autonomy; good social relations; art and cultural heritage; spirituality and religions; governance and justice. After abstracts and papers were screened for relevance, the final corpus of papers reviewed for this report comprised 186 papers across 11 value categories. Grey literature was sourced through recommendations from experts at the MDBA, Australian National University and Griffith University. Papers initially considered in the security and livelihoods category were excluded as they were considered to align too closely with the economic values literature being reviewed in parallel with this review. Distribution of literature The literature reviewed covers the full suite of relational value categories, however the distribution is uneven across value categories, geographies, and populations. The ‘governance and justice’ literature is the largest collection of papers, explained by the substantial water reforms over the past 20 years. The next largest category, ‘living well and in harmony with nature and mother earth’, features papers that illustrate the deep connections people have to the Basin, and the varied stewardship efforts underway to address environmental and social decline. The smaller number of papers across the remaining value categories suggests more work is to be done to broaden understanding of these value categories, as they all represent important ways in which people live in, experience, and respond to waterways and their connected landscapes. The majority of papers focused on the whole of the Basin as the scale of analysis (52), with studies focused at an NRM region scale the next most common (44). A majority of papers (74) were published in the last five years (2018-2022). The spatial distribution across the Basin is uneven, with just 20 papers solely undertaken in the Northern Basin, compared to 88 solely within the Southern Basin. Of those studies in the Northern Basin, only five were undertaken in Queensland. The Murray River received significantly more attention than other rivers (57 studies), followed by the Darling (15), Murrumbidgee (13) and the Goulburn (13). Representation of First Nations Groups was also uneven: with only 32 of the 45 Nations across the Basin included in the literature, the Baakandji, Yorta Yorta, Ngarrindjeri and Ngemba people were most the groups most frequently included in the literature.

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Research Report for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority

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Jackson, S; Wyborn, C; Annand-Jones, R, Relational values of the Murray Darling Basin, 2023