Back to blog

Using transformative scenarios to address climate change in Australia

Reos Partners
November, 2022


See how Reos Partners supported a multi-stakeholder group in Australia to better prepare for climate change by using transformative scenarios.

Bushfires in Australia are a regular and widespread natural occurrence. However, those in 2019-2020, known as Black Summer, were the worst in history. Black Summer resulted in nearly 500 deaths, as over 24 million hectares of bush blazed, releasing an estimated 900 million tonnes of CO2 (about the same as emissions from commercial air travel worldwide) and killing around one billion animals. Future bushfire seasons are expected to be longer and worse as the impacts of climate change increase.

The climate crisis is no longer a threat but a reality. So, how do we best prepare for the future and equip ourselves to be responsive as it unfolds in an uncertain world? How do we take action now to shape the future we want and reduce the risks of the hazards ahead? How can fire and emergency service agencies best prepare to provide effective services in a climate-challenged world? These questions prompted the Preparing Emergency Services for Operations in a Climate-Challenged World project to approach Reos Partners to lead a transformative scenarios process from 2020 to 2021.


The Black Summer bushfire caused great devastation for humans, animals, and the environment, spurring the Preparing Emergency Services for Operations in a Climate-Challenged World project to address climate change.

Exploring the future

Under the stewardship of The Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre and the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council and led by Reos Partners and RMIT University, a select team of leaders and professionals from across the Australian and New Zealand emergency management sector (EMS) and related organisations came together to understand better the driving forces that interact to shape the future in unpredictable and volatile ways.

Recent global events have provided us with the opportunity to question what we value, what we do, and how we do it. As emergency service organisations, they have also encouraged us to wonder what else is possible to help us better plan, prepare, respond, and recover.

EMS professional and scenarios team member

Reos Partners led an intensive co-designed process that included research, interviews, and a series of workshops, culminating in creating scenarios that look ahead fifteen years – long enough that significant change can take place, yet close enough to be tangible and meaningful.

The team explored what might shape the future over this period. Understanding what futures might plausibly emerge involves understanding what is certain and uncertain about the future. In particular, what are the driving forces that are most uncertain in the world around us (known as the contextual environment outside the EMS) that might have a significant impact on the EMS itself? Exploring these uncertainties helps us better understand what consequences these future uncertainties can have on the industry and the organizations within and around it. This leads to new thinking, strategies, and approaches for adapting to, influencing, or transforming the future.

(The process) has opened a space in my mind for a new way of thinking which I find refreshing and difficult. There’s a need for more of this; it frees up the space that we shield ourselves from.

Katelyn Samson, Senior Project Officer, Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience


Preparing for the future

A transformative scenarios process is not about predicting the future; it’s about imagining various plausible shifts to the status quo and then considering the implications.

The four scenarios were overlaid with possible climate hazards, and case studies were developed to test the robustness of plans in urban and rural firefighting services, land management agencies, and state emergency services. In other words, what would the futures imagined by the scenarios team mean for the EMS? How should organizations prepare themselves in light of this knowledge? What are the needs for tools, capabilities, networks, and resources that could minimize risk and preserve life?

Addressing-Climate-Change-in-Australia-Using-Transformative-Scenarios_Image-2-1-1 (1)

Four distinct yet, plausible scenarios emerged during the process. Each scenario unfolds differently, leading to a different future and having distinct and profound implications for the EMS.

While the EMS sector can’t change the reality of climate change, by considering the likely impacts, they can mitigate against them in a way that will significantly reduce loss of life, damage, and costs. These scenarios empower them and others to do so.

Since the completion of the project, the scenarios have been applied in several ways, including:

  • The Australian Rural Leadership Foundation engaged Reos Partners to use the scenarios to help build leadership capability and resilience in drought-affected communities.
  • Queensland Fire and Emergency Services are using the scenarios to test their strategy, with other states planning to do the same.
  • Supported by Reos Partners, an alliance of government and community organizations has been using the scenarios to develop an ongoing community of practice to strengthen strategies and approaches to protect biodiversity in a climate-challenged world.

Those engaging with these transformative scenarios have:

  • Increased their confidence to plan, prepare, respond, and recover from climate turbulence and act with agency, clarity, agility, and speed in crises.
  • Shifted from feeling powerless and vulnerable to having confidence and agency.
  • Build a shared awareness and understanding of how the future might unfold and what they might do separately and together to adapt to and transform it.
  • Strengthened strategic frameworks to navigate unpredictable futures.
  • Established new platforms from which to collectively learn.

By learning from the future through the transformative scenarios process, Australia’s EMS sector is better positioned to deal with the inevitable climate challenges ahead.

Read the complete scenarios report here.

View a video summary of the scenarios here.

Sign up to our newsletter