A transformational approach for climate adaptation

In collaboration with Wageningen Environmental Research, we published a perspective paper on how to support policy makers to develop transformational adaptation strategies. Transformational adaptation strategies aim to tackle the root causes of climate risks through broader development pathways.

Three categories of adaptation
There are three categories of adaptation: reactive, incremental and transformational adaptation. Reactive adaptation, or coping, focuses on reducing the negative consequences during and after an extreme climate event. This type of action is common practice in natural hazard management or heatwave protocols. Incremental adaptation aims to prevent the negative consequences of climate change by protecting existing infrastructural and social systems. This is a proactive type of action. Examples are increasing the sewerage capacity or placing flood gates at buildings. Transformational adaptation, in our perspective, is about addressing the root causes of vulnerability to climate risks and about avoiding lock-ins for unsustainable development. An example of transformational adaptation is greening a neighbourhood in a way that it not only helps to absorb excess rainwater, but also improves the cities’ sponge capacity and biodiversity.

Knowledge and tools for transformational adaptation
There are many tools for reactive and incremental adaptation, such as climate stress tests and databases for climate action. But how can you guarantee that your strategies will be sustainable in the long run? The article shows that as a climate service provider you can help policy-makers to draw up a transformational adaptation strategy. You can do this in four ways:

  • You can offer system knowledge to identify the root causes and long-term solutions.
  • You can offer inspirational and cross-disciplinary knowledge to develop a long-term vision.
  • Next, you can help policy-makers to mainstream this vision, with the aid of guiding principles and a clear climate message.
  • And together with policy-makers you can design principles that are connected to the priorities and interests of the stakeholders.

This means climate service providers need to simplify and aggregate climate knowledge for policy-makers. They also need to integrate climate knowledge with knowledge about the physical, economic and social systems of cities and regions. Therefore, as a climate service provider you need to widen your scope and skills and collaborate with experts in the fields of urban planning, landscape architecture, ecology, health and sociology.