Thinking big – scaling up climate change adaptation

The interaction of climate change with other drivers of global change such as urban development and economic growth is aggravating existing risks to social and ecological systems and creating new ones.

These risks particularly affect people whose well-being and livelihood depend directly on ecosystems such as oceans, forests and rivers and the services they provide.

The potential for widespread changes to the environment will have profound effects on societies and economies. This calls for ‘transformative’ responses, developed through collaboration across disciplines, changing the way people think and act in enabling adaptation to global change.

As climate change awareness and action gains traction, biophysical and social scientists are coming together to synthesise complex ideas into easily understandable concepts that can be put into practice.

A paper published in the journal Environmental Science and Policy outlines a framework for transformative adaptation, developed by the Transformative Adaptation Research Alliance (TARA) an international network of researchers and practitioners.

The approach is based on three elements: the benefits of adaptation services – the subset of ecosystem services that help people adapt to environmental change; the values-rules-knowledge perspective for identifying aspects of societal decision-making that enable or constrain adaptation; and adaptation ‘pathways’.

Enabling transformative adaptation requires new ways to evaluate and adaptively manage trade-offs between what we care about now and what we want to maintain in the future. These are difficult questions that need an approach that enables people to have conversations about futures that are uncertain and values that are often contested. TARA’s approach is specifically designed to do this.

One of the paper’s co-authors is Carina Wyborn, research adviser with the Luc Hoffmann Institute.

“The conservation community has been trying for many years to get action on climate change, but often the focus is too technical, or too narrowly focused on a limited set of biodiversity values,” she says. “The TARA approach is making great progress in helping a broad range of stakeholders consider what it means to conserve the things that we care about now and into the future.”

“Through the Conservation Futures project the Luc Hoffmann Institute is working with partners to develop methods for the adaptive management of protected areas so they can continue to support biodiversity conservation, local communities and economies into the future,” Wyborn explains.

The paper: An integrative research framework for enabling transformative adaptation in Environmental Science & Policy (2016)