Mosaics of Adaptation – Resilience, Transition, Transformation

The IPCC SREX report (discussed earlier) situates disaster risk management and climate change adaptation within the overall context of development. The figure below zooms in and elaborates the adaptation part from the perspective of Mark Pelling, a professor of geography at King’s College in London who served as a coordinating author for the SREX report.

b pelling figure

Pelling’s 2011 book, Adaptation to Climate Change: From Resilience to Transformation argues that in the current climate change context, “it is too easy to see adaptation as a narrowly defensive task – protecting core assets or functions from the risks of climate change,” and that “adaptive actions can deny the deeper political and cultural roots that call for significant change in social and political relations if human vulnerability to climate change associated risk is to be reduced.”

The adaptation framework he develops distinguishes between resilience (stability), transition (incremental change based on existing rights) and transformation (regime change and new rights).

He describes the three levels of adaptation as nested and compounding in these terms:

Nesting allows higher-order change to facilitate lower-order change so that transformative change in a social system could open scope for local transitions and resilience.

Compounding reflects the potential for lower-order changes to stimulate or hinder higher-order change.

Building resilience can provoke reflection and be upscaled with consequent changes across a management regime, enabling transitional and potentially transformative change – but it could also slow down more profound change as incremental adjustments offset immediate risks while the system itself moves ever closer to a critical threshold for collapse.

On the ground, he finds that “mosaics of adaptation are generated from the outcomes of overlapping efforts to build (and resist) resilience, transition, local transformative change and remaining unmet vulnerabilities.”

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