There is widespread recognition that climate change will affect cities and regions worldwide. Projected impacts of climate change will be spatially non-uniform and the ability of communities to respond to those impacts will also vary significantly. Assisting multi-level decision-making involving climate change adaptation with scenario planning is well placed given the uncertainty related to climate science and projected impacts. This paper seeks to distill lessons on the use of scenario planning involving multi-stakeholders for decision-making related to climate change adaptation. Lessons are extracted based on the development and application of explorative scenarios (multiple plausible futures) by three distinct action-research projects involving different scales of stakeholder engagement in Australia: (i) regional, (ii) institutional, and (iii) community scales.

The regional scale project focuses on the South East Queensland Climate Adaptation Research Initiative (SEQCARI) involving a multi-sectoral investigation of climate change adaptation in the South East Queensland (SEQ) region, comprising the sectors of urban and regional planning, coastal management, physical infrastructure, emergency management and human health. The SEQ region has been identified as one of six vulnerability hotspots to climate change in Australia. The institutional scale project focuses on the planning department of the local government area of Shoalhaven City Council in New South Wales. Shoalhaven area is subject to recurrent threats from both riverine and coastal flooding and intense wildfires set to intensify as a result of climate change. The community scale focuses on the recovery phase of the Cardwell community in far north Queensland in the aftermath of category five tropical cyclone Yasi. Tropical cyclones affecting this area are likely to become less frequent but more intense in the face of climate change. At least two scenario planning workshops were conducted for each project to assist in the development and testing of proposed adaptation options. Adaptation options were developed through collaborative planning processes involving a range of stakeholders and aimed to reduce their vulnerability to future climate change impacts.

Findings indicate that at broader scales, such as regional level, exploratory scenarios enable the integration of multistakeholder and sector perspectives related to complex challenges such as climate change adaptation for human settlements. In particular, at that scale, scenarios provide opportunities for improved interaction between practitioners and understanding of sector-specific issues. In parallel, institutional and community scales are better positioned for scoping more specific and tailored adaptation options. However, they lack broader interaction between different layers of actors involved in decision-making therefore hampering stakeholder’s ability to ascertain feasibility and envision the implementation of adaptation pathways. Multi-stakeholder scenarios processes are known to be time consuming given stakeholder’s unfamiliarity with the method. In the community scale project, it was also noted stakeholder’s difficulty in grasping with both multi-dimension challenges related to and longer-term strategic thinking demanded for climate change adaptation.

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