1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

  • 0
  • 0

Back | Programme Area: Social Dimensions of Sustainable Development

Transformative Adaptation to Climate Change in Coastal Cities

  • Project from: 2019 to 2019

Building on initial work on transformative adaptation carried out in 2018, this project will delve deeper into adaptation decision-making processes and barriers to transformative solutions in the case studies of Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam, and Jakarta, Indonesia, in order to inform more progressive policy making in the context of Southeast Asian coastal cities.

In a first phase (March – December 2019), the project will convene an expert workshop and produce two case study papers as well as a synthesis report in time for the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference COP25. A second phase is envisaged for 2020 in order to expand the case study research and organize local stakeholder workshops to discuss findings and policy recommendations.

The Research Issue in Context

Despite the knowledge of the scale and urgency of climate change, current climate action is insufficient to successfully tackle its impacts. Recognition of the problem is not translating into decisions that address root causes and promote transformative change and climate justice. Rapidly urbanizing coastal regions face the complex challenge of not only adapting to the increasing impacts of different hazards such as sea-level rise and urban flooding but also ensuring sustainable, low-carbon development . This project seeks to improve policy making and strengthen policy acceptance of transformative adaptation (understood as change that can overcome inequalities and root causes of vulnerability) in coastal cities, by conducting two case studies in Viet Nam and Indonesia.

Adaptation measures often focus on infrastructure-heavy protective interventions, such as dykes, sea walls and building retrofitting. By primarily targeting the exposure to hazards, such interventions reduce the likelihood of being affected by a flood or storm surge, but leave people vulnerable in case of infrastructure failure, for example should a dyke be breached. Such measures thus have little effect on inherent vulnerability in terms of reducing people’s susceptibility to harm or increasing their coping and adaptive capacities to natural hazards. Many adaptation interventions offer technical solutions to problems that are not technical in nature, neglecting the more complex socio-political barriers to transformative solutions.

Integrated solutions, transformative adaptation and more profound policy change are still scarce. Communities and policy makers are reluctant to pursue transformative shifts for a number of reasons, including the associated uncertainties and risks, lack of knowledge or capacities, or priority-setting that favours conventional solutions. These reasons are not sufficiently understood, however, and we need to identify what exactly hinders more transformative shifts both within different case study contexts and internationally (in view of cross-border impacts of climate change and response measures). While there are many advances in the science and theoretical understanding of adaptation, realities of adaptation are often constrained by the institutional and political context in which it takes place and that reproduces inequalities and power asymmetries.


The project explores why transformative adaptation does not happen more often and how adaptation decision-making processes could be made more inclusive and integrated in order to promote more transformative approaches. It specifically seeks to increase the understanding of transformative adaptation and improve adaptation decision making in the context of Southeast Asian coastal cities.

Outputs, Activities and Consultation Documents

  • Workshop on barriers and opportunities for transformative adaptation (Bonn, 23-24 June 2019)
    Building on recent UNRISD work on transformative adaptation, we organized a workshop with 10 selected adaptation experts from Ho Chi Minh City and Jakarta in order to discuss limits, barriers and opportunities for transformative change in the two cities and foster mutual learning and understanding of the challenges of transformative adaptation in these specific contexts. The workshop was complemented by a public seminar to engage a wider audience. Discussions are summarized in an online UNRISD Event Brief.

Engage with the Project

Please get in touch with Dunja Krause [dunja dot krause at un dot org] if you would like to learn more about the project and explore ways you could contribute to it.


The project is funded by the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung with support from the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.