Projected changes in climate and variability are considered to be significant stressors on biodiversity (from the individual organism to biome level) and ecosystem services, both today and in the future, rivalling human land use. Determining the impact of future climate on biodiversity and ecosystem services remains extremely challenging given the uncertainty around the magnitude and rate of projected changes of a range of different climate parameters, the creation of ‘novel’ climates, and the diverse range of species responses to different climate variables, including their vulnerability, sensitivity and adaptive capacity. A better understanding of the complex interactions is critical if we are to adopt proactive conservation planning measures to future proof against projected climate changes. Fortunately in these regards, the recent geological record provides potential analogues for different aspects of future climate and environmental change. During the late Pleistocene alone (the last 130,000 years), pronounced warming, megadroughts and sustained sea level rise occurred across a range of timescales, from sub-decadal to millennial in duration. Here we will explore key periods in the past during which these climatic events occurred in Australia and globally, and explore the potential impacts (and thresholds) of ecological systems to extreme and abrupt change.