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Publication Overview

Building a Climate-Resilient City: Transformational adaptation

This policy brief focuses on how cities can build resilience to climate change through transformational adaptation.

As opposed to incremental adaptation—which involves building on and improving the efficiency of conventional practices, approaches, technologies and governance structures for climate risk reduction and management—transformational adaptation may lead to the implementation of fundamentally different approaches to preparing for and responding to climate risks. Transformational adaptation involves a broader and more systemic look at the root causes of the vulnerability of a system (such as a city) to the impacts of climate change— and taking steps to reduce these sources of vulnerability.

Key Messages

  • Adaptation to climate change may be incremental or transformational in nature. Cities can choose to combine both approaches, depending on their needs and circumstances.
  • Transformational adaptation occurs when fundamentally new and innovative responses are required—typically upon realizing that historic approaches are insufficient for current or anticipated climate risks.
  • Governance systems that emphasize transparency, integration, flexibility, monitoring, continual learning and knowledge sharing increase the likelihood that transformational adaptation occurs at the necessary and appropriate time.

The Building a Climate-Resilient City series was prepared for the City of Edmonton and the City of Calgary by the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the University of Winnipeg. This series looks makes recommendations for steps that cities can take as part of their municipal adaptation planning to build their resilience to climate change. It explores three key principles of resilience building: robustness (strong design), redundancy (building extra capacity into systems to act as fail-safe networks) and resourcefulness (citizen empowerment).

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