The IPCC calls for Transformational Adaptation in every community. Now let’s get on with the job.


Home » The IPCC calls for Transformational Adaptation in every community. Now let’s get on with the job.

By Ranyl Rhydwen and Kit Jones

Headlines from the IPCC report released today are echoing around the world; climate change is real and affecting all areas of the globe.  If we fail to rise to the challenge the IPCC is clear about the consequences: food and fresh water supply will be threatened, ecosystems will be disrupted, there will be more extreme weather events and health problems will increase. In the context of inequality, climate change will exacerbate poverty, malnutrition and potentially conflict and migration too. The impacts will be different in different regions and the most economically vulnerable face the most extreme consequences, but everyone on the planet is likely to be impacted in some way. Many already are.

Map from the new report showing global climate change impacts

Though the report provides more detail and evidence of these effects of climate change, the picture is in many ways familiar to those who were already concerned about the issue. The new proposition that this report loudly makes, however, is “transformational adaptation”. It is a phrase that will no doubt become increasingly common in discussion of how we respond to climate change.

Transformational adaptation is a new approach that sensibly integrates mitigation (how we prevent climate change) and adaptation (how we live with it) under one umbrella and looks for solutions that can contribute to both – rather than forms of adaptation that exacerbate the causes of climate change or visa versa.

The new report also emphasises transformational change; change that is radical and happens at the level of technological, political and economic systems. This theme was hinted at in another less high profile report by the IPCC last year, the SREX report, but has been brought to the forefront in this latest report, which says

Transformations in economic, social, technological, and political decisions and actions can enable climate-resilient pathways (high confidence). Strategies and actions can be pursued now that will move towards climate-resilient pathways for sustainable development, while at the same time helping to improve livelihoods, social and economic well-being, and responsible environmental management.

On a local level, transformational adaptation doesn’t mean simply applying generic solutions. Transformation plans should be developed with the participation of the community and with a sense of place. That is how communities are going to be able to increase their resilience to climate change. The new report goes on to say that

Local government and the private sector are increasingly recognized as critical to progress in adaptation, given their roles in scaling up adaptation of communities, households, and civil society and in managing risk information and financing… Decision support is most effective when it is sensitive to context and the diversity of  decision types, decision processes, and constituencies”

There is a note of caution, however, about the scope for win-win solutions that help us adapt to and mitigate climate change. The report warns how adaptation can be hindered by

limited financial and human resources; limited integration or coordination of governance; uncertainties about projected impacts; different perceptions of risks; competing values; absence of key adaptation leaders and advocates; and limited tools to monitor adaptation effectiveness. Another constraint includes insufficient research, monitoring, and observation and the finance to maintain them. Underestimating the complexity of adaptation as a social process can create unrealistic expectations about achieving intended adaptation outcomes.

The new IPCC report also says that

Opportunities to take advantage of positive synergies between adaptation and mitigation may decrease with time, particularly if limits to adaptation are exceeded. In some parts of the world, insufficient responses to emerging impacts are already eroding the basis for sustainable development.

The implication from this is therefore that transformational adaptation responses are needed now. They need to be localized for everyone yet global in purpose. They need to bring communities together to combat the common threat and ethically implement the changes needed for a sustainable society. Here at CAT we anticipated these conclusions several years ago and last month launched one of the UK’s first MSc courses focused on transformational adaptation and sustainability. The new inter-disciplinary courses bring together thinking from political science, engineering, economics and environmental sciences giving students an in-depth understanding of how to approach these changes, assess the risk and vulnerabilities involved and implement transformative strategies on a community and wider level. Adaptation transformation is radical change and requires an open, self-reflective, iterative and sharing approach, which is the ethos behind our teaching at CAT.

The evidence presented by the IPCC today is clear, radical transformational action is needed immediately. We at CAT full heartedly agree and hope that we can be the catalyst for everyone who visits to become part of that process. The goal is an equitable, fair and ecosystem sustainable society for ourselves and future generations to enjoy. It’s nothing short of a transformation of society – now let’s go out and make it.

Find out more about our new MSc in Sustainability and Adaptation or our Short Course on Transformational Adaptation for planners.

Join us next week in London to discuss the latest IPCC research and our own plan for Zero Carbon Britain (or register to watch online)

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