Imagine the future: Australia in 2030, Part 1

Australia in 2030

Possible Alternative Futures

Acknowledgement and Commitment

We recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People as the traditional custodians of the land on which we live and work and acknowledge

that sovereignty of the land we call Australia has never been ceded. We commit to listening to and learning from First Nations people about how we can better reflect Indigenous ways of being and knowing in our work.

Rewrite the Future

The Rewrite the Future Roundtable series is a collaboration between Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA) and over 100 thought leaders. We are grateful for the input and advice from and the support of our sponsors, Australian National University, Monash Sustainable Development Institute, University of Sydney and Health, Nature, Sustainability Research Group at Deakin.

About Climate and Health Alliance

CAHA’s Mission is to build a powerful health sector movement for climate action and sustainable healthcare.

Contact: Released February 2021

Suite 4.9, Level 4, 247-251 Flinders Lane, Melbourne VICTORIA 3000, Australia

© Climate and Health Alliance 2021

Australia in 2030: Possible Alternative Futures


Foreword 1

Introduction 2

The Case for Imagination 3

Possible Alternative Futures 4

Definitions 6

Scenario 1: No change 7

Scenario 2: Marginal change 15

Scenario 3: Maladaptive change 23

Scenario 4: Transformative change 31

Scenario 5: Integrated change 39

Conclusion 47

Acknowledgements 48


The decisions that we make now about greenhouse gas emissions and about adapting to climate change will affect us in 2030 and for decades beyond. Human activities currently produce the equivalent of about 53 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

The rising trend in emissions was long and strong before the COVID lockdown drove emission down by around 7% in 2020.

Will it ‘bounce-back’ to that upwards trend or will the reductions in emissions this year be the start of a new, downwards trajectory?

The long-term difference is likely to be stark.

On the one hand, a world heading towards 4 or 5°C warmer, with profound, and sometimes effectively unmanageable and irreversible impacts via changes in average climate, increased climate extremes and rising sea levels (amongst other things) affecting almost every aspect of our lives, livelihoods and environment.

In contrast, effective action on climate change, keeping it within 1.5°C to 2°C above pre-industrial will still result in significant impacts but these are likely to be much more manageable.

Whilst the differences in climate impacts of these two trajectories will only just be emerging by 2030 due to committed climate changes arising from past emissions, and the likely time needed to radically reduce GHG emissions, what will be very clear in that timeframe is:

  1. further increases in the costs of climate change impacts
  2. further increases in the need for proactive and effective adaptation responses and in particular
  3. changes in human systems across the globe (e.g. energy, food, urban, water, biodiversity, transport etc) as we either increase emissions under a business-as- usual scenario or reduce them as required by the Paris Agreement.

The choices we make now will put us on these different trajectories. Different future worlds.

Professor Mark Howden

Director, Climate Change Institute, Australian National University

Australia in 2030: Possible Alternative Futures 1


In 2020, we led a process of deep thinking and creative engagement in the Rewrite the Future roundtable series which brought over 100 thought leaders from health, social science, environment, human ecology, biodiversity, sustainability, finance, economics, urban design, media, science communication, Indigenous land and fire management, race relations, criminal justice, philanthropy, and futures thinking together over a six week period, to collectively imagine the future.

We sought to use the moment of disruption provided by the COVID-19 pandemic to imagine possible alternative futures for Australia, and to describe a preferred future – and the steps required to achieve it.

Guided by futures experts, we used a process of developing narratives for four possible alternative future scenarios: no change, marginal change, maladaptive change and radical transformative change.

What emerged was four possible alternative futures, from which (using a process of backcasting) we surfaced the key elements of a fifth, preferred, integrated scenario – the future we choose.

The five scenarios are described here, along with case studies or ‘day in the life of’ stories, intended to bring the scenarios to life, situate them in the real world, and communicate the experience of someone in that situation in 2030.

We have chosen different contexts, geographies and demographics to illustrate the experience of as wide a cross section of the community as we could.

About the process

Scenario development is a tool used by communities, agencies, governments and other groups to discuss possible alternative futures. Scenarios are in effect, ‘stories’ about the future. Scenario thinking allows us to challenge the status quo, by asking “what if?” This allows us to imagine the possibilities of tomorrow, so we are better prepared to take action, based on those insights.

Our goal through the publication and dissemination of this set of possible alternative future scenarios for Australia in 2030 is aimed at helping decision makers and the wider community better understand the consequences associated with different policy choices – and build consensus around a shared vision for a healthy, regenerative and just future for all.

Fiona Armstrong

Executive Director, Climate and Health Alliance

Australia in 2030: Possible Alternative Futures 2


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