Transformational Adaptation

Incremental or tranformational adaptation?

Incremental adaptation measures operate with existing technological, governance and value systems. They aim to build resilience with communities, as they currently are. However there is increasing acknowledgement that incremental adaptations may not be sufficient to cope with potentially dramatic climate events. For example, sea level may rise too high, flooding events become too extensive, drought may make farming in some regions uneconomic. In response larger, transformational adaptation may need to be employed.

In their paper on transformational and incremental adaptations, Kates, Travis and Willbanks (2012) identify two conditions that set the stage for transformational adaptation to climate change:

  • Large vulnerability in certain regions, populations, or resource systems
  • Severe climate change that overwhelms even robust human use systems

In a special paper to the IPCC, O’Brian and colleagues, concur that these conditions will make it difficult for systems to adapt sustainably without some form of transformational change taking place (O’Brian et al. 2012).

This may prove to be a difficult subject to address within a training course, not only to an  audience  sceptical of climate change to begin with, but also to those who accept the premise in the first place. Transformational adaptations are typically large in scale, high in cost and challenge the very institutional and behavioral actions that tend to maintain existing resource systems and policies (O’Brian et al. 2012). Further information and resources on transformational adaptation, can be found on the following pages. But as a final note, O’Brian and colleagues state that transformational adaptations are facilitated through increased emphasis on adaptive management, learning, innovation, and leadership (O’Brian et al. 2012). As challenging as the subject may prove to be, it could also lead to an inspiring training event.


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