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Limited use of transformative adaptation in response to social-ecological shifts driven by climate change

Giacomo Fedele, Moore Center for Science, Conservation International, Arlington, VA, USA
Camila I. Donatti, Moore Center for Science, Conservation International, Arlington, VA, USA; Department of Biological Sciences, Northern Arizona University, Flagsraff, AZ, USA
Celia A. Harvey, Moore Center for Science, Conservation International, Arlington, VA, USA; Monteverde Institute, Monteverde de Santa Elena, Puntarenas, Costa Rica
Lee Hannah, Moore Center for Science, Conservation International, Arlington, VA, USA; Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, University of California Santa Barbara, CA, USA
David G. Hole, Moore Center for Science, Conservation International, Arlington, VA, USA; Department of Biosciences, Durham University, Durham, UK

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-11381-250125

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Abstract

Climate change is increasingly driving fundamental shifts in ecosystems, land use, and human livelihoods. Because of these rapid shifts, some conventional adaptation strategies may have limited success in reducing the impact of climate change. In some circumstances, there will be a need for considering transformative changes as part of adaptation strategies that can provide long-term benefits and address the root causes of vulnerability. However, to date, there is limited understanding of how societies respond to, or drive, transformative changes in social-ecological systems due to climate change impact. We reviewed 60 empirical case studies of shifts in trajectories of social-ecological systems in tropical and subtropical countries that were driven by climate change to identify how societies responded to these shifts and the extent to which societies used transformative adaptation as part of this response. In the case studies, we identified three types of shifts driven by climate change depending on whether the shift occurred in the ecological, social, or social-ecological system. Climate change shifted the trajectories of social-ecological systems by altering the feedback loops connecting soil, water, or vegetation conditions with people’s livelihoods and well-being. In response to these shifts, people adjusted land use policies and practices, but only one-quarter of the reported adaptation actions included transformative adaptation. A more holistic understanding of how climate change modifies interactions in social-ecological systems and leads to shifts in system trajectories could help identify appropriate adaptation responses, including transformative adaptation, that provide long-term and sustainable benefits.

Key words

climate change adaptation, ecosystem services, social-ecological systems, sustainable development, transformations

Copyright © 2020 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087