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Human agency is seen as a critical component of adaptive capacity concerning environmental change. This capacity may entail social actor's ability to learn from past experience, and create opportunities in the present for dealing with uncertainty and change in the future. However, it also means that actors need to be able to overturn structural barriers that impede anticipatory adaptation to climate change such as lack of political leadership, power imbalances, acceptance of climate risks and willingness to act. While scholarship around questions of structural barriers is common in environmental studies literature, there is less understanding about how future thinking could help to strengthen human agency. Harnessing the temporal and projective attributes of human agency by which social actors can exert influence over the future and create solutions may comprise a promising way forward. This paper investigates how social actors understand past social and environmental change and explores how scenario planning may help actors apply their understanding of changes over time to devise policies for climate change adaptation. The paper applies this exploratory lens to an Australian coastal local government area engaged in scenario planning and adaptation pathways planning. Findings indicate that the temporality aspect of agency applied to solving complex issues and overcoming structural barriers manifests differently from an individual to a collective perspective. This means that while scenario planning and adaptation pathways planning helps with anticipatory identification and experimentation, this may not be sufficient to overturn structural barriers to adaptation in the short-term.
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License, which permits use and distribution in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non-commercial and no modifications or adaptations are made. © 2022 The Authors. Environmental Policy and Governance published by ERP Environment and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.