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Understanding local community attitudes toward industrial development in the Great Barrier Reef region World Heritage Area: are environmental impacts perceived to overshadow economic benefits?

Claudia F. Benham

Natural Resources Forum, 2017, vol. 41, issue 1, 42-54

Abstract: Conflicts between industrial development and environmental conservation can be particularly acute when such development occurs in the vicinity of World Heritage sites. A key example is the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBRWHA) in northeastern Australia, where a 2012 review by the World Heritage Council found that rapid port development inshore of the coral reef posed significant risks to local marine ecosystems. Such instances pose pressing challenges for decision‐makers seeking to manage World Heritage sites for multiple values and needs, including those of key stakeholder groups, such as local communities. There is increasingly a societal expectation that public decision‐making takes into account local views and priorities, and that companies seek a ‘social license to operate’. This research explored local community attitudes toward port development associated with the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG) and coal through the GBRWHA. Using data drawn from a survey and interviews, the research examined how a range of geographical factors, including proximity to gas infrastructure and the perceived impacts and risks of development to the local community, economy and environment shape community perceptions of the industry. Findings suggest that local attitudes toward gas and coal terminal development inshore of the GBRWHA are shaped predominantly by community perceptions of environmental impacts and risks associated with such infrastructure, in contrast to a broader public narrative that focuses largely on economic benefits. A complex combination of other factors, including social impacts, personal environmental values, community trust in industry, and equity in decision‐making and distribution of the risks and benefits of industrial development also contribute. Placed in a broader, global context, the findings have important implications for public decision‐making processes in Australia and elsewhere as they suggest that, for local communities, the perceived impacts of gas development on the environment may overshadow the benefits of industry.

Date: 2017
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