Skip to 0 minutes and 15 seconds The 1.5 degree target from the Paris agreement is a real challenge for society and the types of transformations that we need are going to have to be much more than just technical fixes that address carbon emissions from energy, they’re going to have to be, I think, wider and deeper and include really social changes that reduce vulnerability but also allow us to address not just the climate issue but many other human environment relationships and issues.
Skip to 0 minutes and 53 seconds The concept of adaptation, mitigation, and, more recently, transformation have played a big role in how we think about climate change. And they’re very much interrelated. Adaptation means adapting or adjusting to experienced or anticipated impacts of climate change, whereas mitigation is reducing the emissions and thereby the risk of climate change. And transformation can be used in terms of adaptation, transformational adaptation, moving people from coastlines or changing your agriculture. And it can be used in terms of mitigation. How do we get on a different climate stabilisation pathway? But the way I see it, transformation is really all of the above, in that we have to adapt through transformation.
Skip to 1 minute and 39 seconds We need to make changes that really address the root causes of the problem and not just the consequences. And I think, in many ways, climate change is a consequence of where we’ve organised society, the way we approach resources, the way we think about each other and other species and things. So the transformations, I think, that we need to address climate change are really much more– have to be taken from a really holistic and wider challenging the systems and structures that have created problems.
Skip to 2 minutes and 18 seconds Deliberate transformations are really in contrast to the transformations that are occurring as a result of climate change. We are transforming the planet at an unprecedented scale and speed. And these transformations, we’re here talking about how do we adapt to them, how do we minimise them? But deliberate transformations are really reflective, they’re based on a holistic perspective. And this idea that we can actually change the change. We can actually move in a different direction, because we do have a lot of knowledge about what the underlying drivers of climate change and other social challenges are. We do know how humans respond. And we do know that we can actually create a different future.
Skip to 2 minutes and 59 seconds And that, I think is one of the best messages that came out from the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is that the future is a choice. But to move from one pathway to another requires deliberate transformations.
Skip to 3 minutes and 22 seconds Well, transformation has a dark side as well, because nobody likes to be transformed. And transformations, they upset– we like stability in our lives. We like predictability. We like certainty. And transformations often mean that we have to let go of some of the things that we’re used to or that we value or just the status quo. And it can be very threatening. And it can be very uncomfortable. And there’s a real risk that– whose transformations are we actually going to be implementing?
Skip to 3 minutes and 52 seconds And that’s why, for transformations, you need them to be not just top down, not just bottom up, but you need them to be socially discussed and inclusive and really to be addressing some of– how do we deal with social change at this larger scale, because I think the risk is that when you try– when transformations happen too fast and without actually getting people on board, you face resistance and failure.
Skip to 4 minutes and 29 seconds Transformations, I think, because they can’t happen from– they’re not just about top down decision making or political or institutional changes, they’re really about change at every level of society. And that means we need leaders at every level of society and not just the traditional leaders who sit in positions of power but people who have a certain sphere of influence and can affect change, whether it’s in a school system, in a sector of the food system or government systems. But it really is that each of us has that power to lead and to collaborate and work with others for these transformations.
Skip to 5 minutes and 9 seconds But the real leadership comes when people start to challenge their own assumptions, when they start to question, what is given? Why does it have to be this way? And I see more and more people that are stepping forward and taking the lead on climate change who maybe would not traditionally be thought of as leaders or think of themselves as leaders, but they are the ones who really are leading the transformations. Leadership for adaptation is really helping people to recognise and address that we are going to have climate change impacts, regardless of emissions reductions right now.
Skip to 5 minutes and 45 seconds Over the next decades, we will see changes, we will see losses, and that adaptation work has to really see how can we, as a society, best respond to these and actually reduce risks and vulnerabilities over these years, because much of the risk and vulnerability is socially constructed. It’s about the way we’ve organised society. It’s not just about the floods and the storms and the droughts. And leadership for transformation, then, I think, is to bring that into this larger idea, where we, as a species, as a society, we have to adapt to the very idea that we are changing the climate, that we have this choice about the future.
Skip to 6 minutes and 24 seconds And leadership for transformation then, has to be able to look at mitigation as the biggest adaptation that society could do. But also starting to look at adapting everything to a new reality. And I think from that bigger perspective of adaptation, it is all about transformation.
Opportunities for change - from mitigation and adaptation to transformation
In this video, Karen O’Brien, professor in human geography at University of Oslo, discusses deliberate transformations as an approach to climate change, and what that means for climate change leadership.
O’Brien’s argument builds on a distinction between adaptation, mitigation and transformation as approaches to meet climate change. Whereas adaptation means to prepare for experienced or anticipated climate effect, mitigation means decreasing greenhouse gas emissions to reduce climate risk. Transformations refer to deeper changes that “address the root causes of the problem and not just the consequences”.
O’Brien notes that meeting the Paris Agreement calls for transformations that go beyond technical fixes:
The 1.5° target from the Paris Agreement is a real challenge for society. The types of transformations that we need are going to have to be much more than than technical fixes that are adress carbon emissions from energy. They have to be wider and deeper, and include social changes that reduce vulnerability but also allow us to adress not just the climate issue but many other human-environment relationships and issues.
While we are currently transforming the planet on an unprecedented scale, O’Brien notes that deliberate transformations means reflection and social conversations about which future we want to create together:
Deliberate transformations are really reflective, based on a holistic perspective and based on the idea that we can really change the change, we can actually move in a different direction. […] We can actually create a different future.
This has implications for leadership:
The real leadership really comes when people start questioning their own assumptions, when they question what is given and why does it have to be this way. And I see more and more people who are stepping forward, taking the lead on climate change and who would perhaps not traditionally been thought of as leaders or think of themselves as leaders. But they are the ones who really are leading the transformations.
© Karen O’Brien, CEMUS and Uppsala University