« The Concept of Transformational Adaptation »

by dave
by dave

« Abstract : The concept of transformational adaptation is increasingly becoming a buzzword in the field of political ecology or the emerging sub-field of climate change governance. However, what kind of adaptation to climate impact can best be described as transformational? This question is not fully answered, since the concept is still at an embryonic stage of life. In this article, the concept is diagnosed bottom-up—exclusively from the perspective of adaptation project beneficiaries. The question is asked: what kind of adaptation project intervention and outcome do you consider transformational? How is transformational adaptation different from incremental adaptation? Through an interpretive research paradigm, some selected adaptation projects from Ghana were used as a case study. According to the interviewees, climate change adaptation interventions that create a systematic shift in livelihood to a more sustainable option, create equitable power structures that influence adaptive decision-making, minimise vulnerability and create opportunity for scaling up could be described as transformational. Specifically, it was found that project beneficiaries consider transformational adaptation strategies that encourage and support a total shift in livelihood (e.g., from rice farming to snail rearing) as transformational. On the basis of the data, the study concludes, though with some cautious optimism, that transformational adaptation could spur innovations and diffusion of ideas and create a path for poverty reduction.

The world’s poor, whose economic activities are largely dependent on climate sensitive sectors are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change (Godfrey-Wood & Otto Naess 2016; Pelling 2010). The impact of climate change differs across scale and time (Cameron 2011; Fedele et al. 2019); as such, different adaptation strategies are also adopted across different levels of government and time horizon. For instance, whilst some farmers in China and East Africa are adopting climate smart insurance as adaptation strategies, low-lying countries like the Netherlands are constructing walls and undertaking strategic resettlement mainly as a result of extreme floods (Tong et al. 2019). There is also evidence of communities moving along the coastal areas in the Mekong Delta to the mainland to avoid the threats from rising sea levels (Edelenbos et al. 2017; Gottfried et al. 2012; Jianjun et al. 2015; Smajgl et al. 2015). The varying adaptation strategies, though very useful, have been described as incremental and sometimes counterproductive, leading to maladaptation (Catrien et al. 2017; Kagunyu and Wanjohi 2014). Incremental adaptation is loosely defined as ‘the extensions of actions and behaviors that already reduce the losses or enhance the benefits of natural variations in climate and extreme events’ (Kates et al. 2012). As such, scholars have argued that incremental adjustment in human and ecological systems in response to the debilitating effects of climate is somewhat ineffective, insufficient and unsustainable to build sufficient resilience (protection of livelihood and properties, food security, reduction of vulnerabilities) to the current and future climate threats (Harvey et al. 2014; Savo et al. 2016), but it may be easy for communities to understand and adjust using past experiences (Vermeulen et al. 2018).

As such, there have been efforts that have birthed a number of systematic strategies reiterating the urgency with which to aggressively modify traditional systems in response to the rising and deteriorating effects of climate change. One such analytical strategy is transformational adaptation (Fedele et al. 2019; O’Brien 2011; Pelling et al. 2015). Future Earth (2015) and Kates et al. (2012) explained transformational adaptation as changes that basically modify an entire system’s natural and/or social structure and functions that are specifically geared towards decreasing the core causes of susceptibilities to climate change.

Even though there is a considerable amount of literature and increasing interest in the field of transformational adaptation (Feola 2014; Kates et al. 2012; Mapfumo et al. 2015; Patterson et al. 2017), one of the strategies to minimise the vulnerability of communities to climate change threats is transformational adaptation, which is highly heralded among climate change and development policy practitioners, although what actually constitutes the idea in empirical terms is yet to be unpacked and applied in many developing countries (Mapfumo et al. 2017). In this article, the concept of transformational adaptation is unpacked bottom-up—from the perspective of adaptation projects beneficiaries—through triangulation of data from literature, field interviews and observations. The article relies on selected cases of adaptation interventions to discuss transformational adaptation. It is timely, as the United Nations gears towards the full implementation of the Paris Agreement in 2020 and as there is need to identify and promote adaptation strategies that are impactful, acceptable and applicable.

The outcome of the article is therefore useful for students, policy practitioners and academicians. The study concludes, based on its findings, that adaptation interventions that are seen or could be described as transformational could spur a multiplier positive effect in localities where they are implemented and further create a sustainable path for poverty reduction.


The Concept of Transformational Adaptation
Adaptation to climate change is broadly defined as an ‘adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities’ (IPCC 2007, 869). The response or adjustment could be categorised as coping response, incremental adaptation or transformational adaptation (Fedele et al. 2019). As noted earlier, incremental adaptation is ‘extensions of actions and behaviors that already reduce the losses or enhance the benefits of natural variations in climate and extreme events’ (Kates et al. 2012).

On the other hand, transformational adaptation is conceptualised as a strategic intervention that is geared towards decreasing the core causes of susceptibility and vulnerability to climate change in the long term by moving the system away from unsustainable or detrimental trajectories. Transformational adaptation deals with vital structural changes in a system that birth new states and interactions within biological systems (Feola 2014; O’Brien 2011; Wahid et al. 2017). It can be triggered by a drastic change in the ecosystem and society in reaction to perceived or anticipated climate change via an increase in incremental adaptation or changes (Kates et al. 2012).

Examples of transformational adaptation, according to Fedele et al. (2019), include the regeneration of rivers and resettlement of human activities from flood-prone areas (instead of constructing channels and drains), a total departure from the use of fossil fuel to the adoption of green energy sources, and so on. Park et al. (2011) defined transformational adaptation as

a discrete process that fundamentally (but not necessarily irreversibly) results in change in the biophysical, social, or economic components of a system from one form, function or location (state) to another, thereby enhancing the capacity for desired values to be achieved given perceived or real changes in the present or future environment.

Transformational adaptation is associated with some unique characteristics that differentiate it from other forms of adaptation.

One of the major characteristics of transformational adaptation is its ability to trigger restructuring, which comprises drastic shifts in vital assets, functions or interactions within the social and biological system (Fazey et al. 2018; Mapfumo et al. 2017).

For instance, peasant farmers who rely largely on agriculture for their employment can take a decision to abandon their farmlands and commence work away from the farm in reaction to declining land productivity owing to climate change.

The idea of transformational adaptation can be described as path-shifting in that it modifies the structure’s present trajectory by forcing the system towards an alternative direction, for example, from a monoculture oil palm plantation to a plantation with different and mixed species of trees (Hahn and Nykvist 2017; Pelling et al. 2015).

Feola (2014) also described transformational adaptation as highly innovative, largely because it alters a remote system into a new one that never existed previously in that area, with the help of novel knowledge, policies or technologies.

For instance, based on experiences from the effect of climate change, farmers may decide to move from crop land cultivation to agroforestry. When farmers convert their crop farms into forest, it can help produce an abundance of species and control erosion.

Petersen (2013) and Gillard et al. (2016) describe it as multi-scale transformation, because its impact is felt in multiple sectors, that is, at spatial, jurisdictional, and sectoral scales.

Transformational adaptation can also trigger system-wide changes on a massive scale, and these changes are felt across an entire region, ecosystem or community (Douxchamps et al. 2017; Gillard et al. 2016; Ostberg et al. 2013). Lastly, transformational adaptation can also be described as ‘persistent’ change accompanied with prolong effects, that is not to say the shift can not be reversed (Crépin et al. 2013; Feola 2014; Rippke et al. 2016).

For illustration, farmers at a particular location may shift to novel occupations that are likely to give them food or sources of revenue for a long period of time, which might make it quite difficult for them to regress to their former agro-ecological system.

The case study in this article will elaborate on and authenticate some of the forms of transformational adaptation.

The Theory of Transformation
Transformational adaptation is a strategy that has been implemented to address climate change threats in order to secure livelihoods, promote food security and encourage poverty reduction (Salman et al. 2019). Transformational adaptation shares similar tenets with the transformation theory (Tanner and Bahadur 2012). This study used the transformation theory to explore how a shift from an old system to a novel system drives drastic change in the society. Till date, it is unclear who the creators and propagators of the transformation theory are (Pickel 2002). In the view of Pickel (2002), international scientific–governmental–corporate interaction coined the transformation theory. The transformation theory identifies itself with major agents of change, that is, the mobilisation and empowerment of groups and individuals via the adoption of a structure and governance system.

The basic assumptions that link the transformation theory and transformational adaptation have to do with the fact that they tackle the complex challenges facing the society and individuals. The transformation theory provides all-inclusive answers to problems of the society (Bonker et al. 2002; Tanner and Bahadur 2012). Mersmann et al. (2014) explained that the theory advocates for a paradigm shift from the old way of doing things, which is characterised by a system-wide change that modifies the interaction between the institutional, cultural, technological, economic and environmental facets of a given structure. The theory unearths novel development paths that remove obstacles that impede change. The theory reinforces the introduction of new policy frameworks and changes to the existing structures that produce innovative governance systems (Homer-Dixon 2009; UN 2012). Daszko and Sheinberg (2005) further noted that the transformation theory represents the formation and alteration of the form, function or structure of a system with the view to creating a responsive system. This theory is used to question beneficiaries of adaptation interventions regarding what constitutes transformational adaptation. It is expected that the outcome of this study will create a paradigm shift in the conceptualisation and implementation of adaptation projects that embrace local users’ perspective.


Discussions of Findings
Reducing and minimising the vulnerability of local people to the severe effects of climate change in Ghana has been an age-old challenge (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, 2018).

This article argues that transformational adaptation has the capacity to minimise the climate change effects on the economic activities and livelihood of rural dwellers and further create sustainable employment, improve income and reduce poverty.

This article provides evidence that transformational adaptation is a sustainable and significance response to the adverse impacts of climate change at the local level. This is as a result of climate-vulnerable rice farmers switching to the rearing of snails, which has significantly reduced the magnitude of their economic activities’ susceptibility to climate change.

Data from the FGDs and interviews put snail farming as a low financial- and climate-risk venture. Respondents unanimously agreed that their previous occupation had a high initial start-up capital and a high yield loss. The study identified that the high cost of rice farming can be defined in terms of its financial losses as a result of climate hazards. This explained the high attractiveness of snail farming to rice farmers, leading to a shift to snail rearing in the study districts. This new move provided safety to the local people, since snail farming is less responsive to major climate change threats than rice farming, which they had been previously engaged in. Vermeulen et al. (2018) explained that the total shift from climate-sensitive agricultural activities of a particular society to those that are less sensitive to climate threat results in a transformational change. The authors posit that there are absolutely no conflicts between snail farmers and rice farmers that may have emerged from snail infestation in rice farms. Snail invasion of farmlands is predominantly experienced in the southern parts, especially in the forest-fringed areas in Ashanti, Eastern Region and Western Region of Ghana. The Pru districts remain free from snail infestation.

One of the primary purposes of transformational adaptation is to provide sustainable employment and facilitate poverty reduction. There is evidence to prove the point that farmers who were introduced to snail farming have acquired sustainable jobs that provide them with a steady income, as compared to the erstwhile rice farming that had been at the mercy of climate change perils. Indeed, Kagunyu and Wanjohi (2014) found out that community members in Isiolo County of semi-arid northern Kenya benefitted from jobs through transformational adaptation. Transformational adaptation is adopted in response to livelihood changes due to climate change stress which are untenable, through providing sustainable employment to the local people (Baird 2008; Kagunyu and Wanjohi 2014).

Conclusion and Policy Recommendations
The impacts of climate change on poor communities are innumerable. In pursuit of building a resilient community, both local governments and international regimes have undertaken series of interventions—both policy and practical interventions. After more than two decades of such interventions, various scholars have underscored the need to identify a disruptive or transformational approach that goes beyond the provision of ad hoc solutions to a more sustainable solution. It is in that regard that this study attempted to examine what is considered as transformational climate change adaptation, from the perspective of the beneficiaries of climate change adaptation interventions.

The study found, among other things, that climate change adaptation project beneficiaries consider those interventions as transformational which create a systematic shift in livelihoods that were previously vulnerable to climate impacts to a more sustainable option which creates equitable power structures that influence adaptive decision-making, minimise vulnerability and create opportunities for scaling up the adaptation. Specifically, it was found that project beneficiaries consider adaptation strategies that encourage and support a total shift in livelihood (e.g., from rice farming to snail rearing) as transformational.

The finding of this study provides significant evidence that transformational adaptation could provide immense opportunities to reduce the impact of climate change on vulnerable communities. The outcome further shows that transformational adaptation could have large economic effects on rural economies, since a shift from unproductive ventures to a more sustainable activity spurs up economic opportunities, boosts income and increases the standard of living of the rural dwellers. Such opportunities and a boost in income, when sustained, could also trigger a path towards poverty reduction.

On the basis of the data, the study concludes, though with some cautious optimism, that transformational adaptation could spur innovations, diffuse ideas and create a path for poverty reduction. Though transformational adaptation has multifaceted and interrelated outcomes, specifically in areas such as income, employment, poverty reduction and livelihood, it provides a foundation for reducing the adverse effects of climate change and building stronger local economies (Whitman et al. 2013; Wise et al. 2014). In this regard, the concept of transformational adaptation remains a highly recommended strategy to respond sustainably to climate change.

The study recommends that practitioners, academicians and political actors undertake steps to include project beneficiaries from the onset of project planning in a more effective and efficient manner to allow their views and life experiences to influence the design, implementation and potential elevation models of programmes that intend to reduce their vulnerability to climate change impacts. The study also recommends that national governments and stakeholders within the field of climate change undertake steps to document case studies of successful adaptation projects that are transformational in nature and which could be transferred to other regions for scaling up. »

Surugu, J. I. M., & Chutab, D. N. (2021). Going Beyond Incrementalism: Climate Projects’ Beneficiaries’ Perspective on What Could Be Described as Transformational AdaptationInternational Journal of Rural Management17(1), 55–74.

Lectures supplémentaires / complémentaires – Curiosités / Partages / Invitation(s) au voyage :

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    • Autisme : diagnostic en progrès, par Justine Canonne
    • Le handicap sous toutes ses formes, par Marc Olano
      • [encadré : « Étymologie – Le terme « handicap » vient de l’expression anglaise hand in cap, littéralement « main dans le chapeau », utilisée dans le cadre d’un jeu de troc d’objets. La personne ayant reçu un objet d’une valeur supérieure devait mettre une somme d’argent dans le chapeau pour rétablir l’équité avec l’autre joueur. Le terme a ensuite été repris dans les courses hippiques pour désigner le poids supplémentaire attribué aux chevaux les plus forts (ou la distance plus longue à parcourir) pour donner les mêmes chances de gain à tous. À l’origine, le « handicap » renvoie donc aux notions de « désavantage » et « rétablissement de l’équité ».« ]
      • Vers une société inclusive, par Justine Canonne
      • Prendre place dans le monde commun, par Martine Fournier
    • Des approches divergentes qui font débat, par Marc Olano
      • [« Entre défenseurs d’une approche neurodéveloppementale moderne et thérapeutes attachés au modèle psychanalytique, la guerre des psys est relancée de plus belle. »]
    • Peut-on réparer l’humain ?, par Marc Olano
      • [extrait-conclusion-ouverture(s) : « Réparer l’humain, une belle idée, qui franchit toujours de nouveaux caps. Les progrès spectaculaires des dernières années montrent qu’il est désormais possible de rendre la vue à une personne aveugle ou de faire marcher un tétraplégique avec la simple force de sa pensée. Mais au-delà de ces « réparations » étonnantes, les nouvelles technologies pourraient aussi nous permettre de dépasser nos limites cognitives, voire un jour de prolonger indéfiniment nos vies grâce à l’intelligence artificielle. Jusqu’où cette course ira-t-elle ? L’homme augmenté sera-t-il la norme de demain ?« ]
    • L’humour pour mémoriser la politique, par Adèle Cailleteau
      • [« Depuis une vingtaine d’années, les programmes d’informations humoristiques se sont multipliés et concurrencent les médias d’informations traditionnels aux États-Unis. Mais peuvent-ils efficacement informer les citoyens ? Une équipe de chercheurs a étudié les effets de l’humour sur la propension à mémoriser une actualité politique et à la partager avec autrui. Ils ont pour cela mené deux expérimentations lors desquelles des participants âgés de 18 à 35 ans commencent par regarder trente-deux courtes vidéos informant sur une actualité politique, la moitié présentée de façon humoristique (le présentateur finit sur une blague). Les participants restituent ensuite le plus d’actualités possibles. Résultat : ils se souviennent mieux de celles présentées avec humour. Pour chaque vidéo, ils doivent dire dans quelle mesure ils seront prêts à en parler et à les partager sur les réseaux sociaux. À nouveau, les clips humoristiques ont l’avantage. Sans doute pour remplir des objectifs sociaux, estiment les chercheurs, comme paraître drôle ou en apprendre davantage sur les opinions politiques de leurs connaissances sans avoir à poser de questions frontales.« ]
    • Hip-hop créole, par Hélène Frouard
    • Comment les chiffres façonnent le monde, par Olivier Martin
      • [« Coordination, articulation, recherche de l’équité… Les chiffres sont devenus les ingrédients essentiels du monde moderne. Objets de pouvoir, ils participent de la construction de notre environnement social. Analyse de cette emprise dans ses multiples dimensions. Chacun peut constater l’emprise des chiffres dans nos quotidiens et dans nos choix, dans les manières de diriger ou de gouverner, dans les décisions individuelles ou collectives, dans nos gestes les plus ordinaires comme dans les actions les plus réfléchies. Si nous sommes convaincus du réchauffement climatique, c’est en raison des mesures produites et commentées par les climatologues ; si des mesures sanitaires sont décidées et appliquées, c’est parce que les données épidémiologiques sur la pandémie donnent réalité à un phénomène largement invisible ; si notre système de navigation nous incite à changer d’itinéraire, c’est parce qu’il estime qu’en fonction des données de circulation, le nouveau trajet prendra moins de temps ; si les décideurs politiques engagent des réformes politiques, c’est à la vue d’indicateurs économiques ou d’enquêtes sociales sur l’état de la société.« ]
  • Pourquoi le monde ne va pas s’effondrer (et comment s’y préparer) – Dossier l’Humanologue (3 | Avril 2021)
    • [« Il va falloir s’y préparer : le pire risque de ne pas arriver. Oui, la terre se réchauffe. Oui, les ressources de la planète sont limitées. Mais cela n’implique ni le constat fataliste « tout est fichu », ni le discours incantatoire « tout est possible ». L’histoire nous apprend que la plupart des sociétés du passé ont affronté de grands défis sans s’effrondrer. Les récits apocalyptiques se sont toujours trompés. Entre l’enfer et le paradis, il y a un large spectre : le monde réel. Cela signife qu’il faut apprendre à vivre dans un monde toujours incertain, ni forcément le pire, ni certainement le meilleur. Et c’est plutôt une bonne nouvelle« .
    • Tours d’orgueil : qui aura la plus grande ?, par Jean-François Dortier
    • Montaigne. Quel inconstant que l’homme !, par Jean-François Dortier
      • [« Mais ce serait trahir l’esprit de Montaigne que de ne lui porter que des louanges. Beaucoup de ses idées – sur le mariage par exemple – ont vieilli. Sa prose est souvent alambiquée, la construction tortueuse et les développements ennuyeux. André Comte-Sponville prévient : la lecture des Essais est « difficile, parfois rebutante ». Charles Dantzig est plus brutal : « Pour tout dire, il m’emmerde » (dans son succulent Dictionnaire égoïste de la littérature française, 2005). Mais la critique la plus grave, la plus acerbe et la plus juste vient de Nicolas Malebranche (1638-1715). Méfiez-vous de Montaigne, nous dit l’auteur de De la recherche de la vérité, l’homme est plaisant, modeste, ouvert, il a des idées généreuses ; on lui pardonne donc tout. Et on se laisse bercer par une pensée attrayante mais décousue et sans cohérence. « Ces Essais ne sont qu’un tissu de traits d’histoire, de petits contes, de bons mots, de distiques, et d’apophtegmes. » Montaigne le reconnaît d’ailleurs volontiers : « Mon style et mon esprit vont vagabondant de même. » Les lecteurs des Essais savent combien il est difficile de suivre les propos de l’auteur tant s’y trouvent de glissements de sens, d’approximations. Mais c’est justement le propre d’un nouveau genre – l’essai. Montaigne a inventé une façon d’écrire et de penser où il se livre sans fard (comme les confidences que l’on fait à un ami). C’est une intelligence en acte qui admet ses propres failles… Décidément, on lui pardonnera tout !« ]
  • Revue Positif (mars 2021)
  • « People often limit their creativity by continually adding new features to a design rather than removing existing ones« , by Diana Kwon
  • Black Software: The Internet and Racial Justice, from the AfroNet to Black Lives Matter, by Charlton Mcllwain
  • Race After Technology : Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code, by Ruha Benjamin
    • [« “This book is worthy of the widest readership, leaving us not only with a deeper understanding of the mutual and shifting roles of race and technology, but also, importantly, with the manageable and doable tools with which to create alternative, equitable, inclusive and prosperous futures. » — Shakir Mohamed, Nature Machine Intelligence. »]
  • « Le COVID-19 frappe très durement les personnes opprimées du fait de décennies d’inégalités, de désintérêt et d’injustice » – Le Rapport 2020/21 d’Amnesty International sur la situation des droits humains dans le monde

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