Future makers or future takers? A scenario analysis of climate change and the Great Barrier Reef
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The extent to which nations and regions can actively shape the future or must passively respond to global forces is a topic of relevance to current discourses on climate change. In Australia, climate change has been identified as the greatest threat to the ecological resilience of the Great Barrier Reef, but is exacerbated by regional and local pressures. We undertook a scenario analysis to explore how two key uncertainties may influence these threats and their impact on the Great Barrier Reef and adjacent catchments in 2100: whether (1) global development and (2) Australian development is defined and pursued primarily in terms of economic growth or broader concepts of human well-being and environmental sustainability, and in turn, how climate change is managed and mitigated. We compared the implications of four scenarios for marine and terrestrial ecosystem services and human well-being. The results suggest that while regional actions can partially offset global inaction on climate change until about mid-century, there are probable threshold levels for marine ecosystems, beyond which the Great Barrier Reef will become a fundamentally different system by 2100 if climate change is not curtailed. Management that can respond to pressures at both global and regional scales will be needed to maintain the full range of ecosystem services. Modest improvements in human well-being appear possible even while ecosystem services decline, but only where regional management is strong. The future of the region depends largely on whether national and regional decision-makers choose to be active future ‘makers’ or passive future ‘takers’ in responding to global drivers of change. We conclude by discussing potential avenues for using these scenarios further with the Great Barrier Reef region's stakeholders.