Transform

Transformative coping strategies challenge the stability of the existing system by introducing fundamentally new ways of thinking, acting, doing and organising.

Photo by: Hasan Zahra

What is a transformative coping strategy?

Transformative coping strategies challenge the stability of the existing system by introducing fundamentally new ways of thinking, acting, doing and organising. Because they represent new ideas about how we will organise energy systems and society, they are often strongly resisted or contested.

Who engages in transformative strategies?

Everyone can engage in transformational strategies. However, they are often most visible when undertaken by governments or by major business or institutional actors. For example, the EU level has been very active in fostering the energy transition. This has required fundamental changes to energy systems and a reorientation away from systems built around carbon-intensive fuels and industries. The policies required to meet decarbonisation requirements are often deeply disruptive, particularly for carbon intensive regions. They require a complete reorientation of national, regional and local economies.

What do transformative coping strategies look like?

Transformative strategies are those that result in fundamental shifts in systems. That means that we are able to recognise clear differences in the ways that we live and experience the world. Importantly, it can be difficult to know that an action or strategy is transformative when it is happening. We often only know that something has been transformative when we are able to look back at it. That can make it hard to identify successful transformative coping strategies. However, we can still identify strategies that are potentially transformative, or that hope to be transformative.

Transformative strategies often extend beyond the energy system. It’s possible to identify instances where transformations spill over and affect wider social and economic systems. For example, new energy systems and innovative modes of democratic decision-making, business models, and social goals are being explored in many places.


Example – Local transformation

In 2021, the Western Macedonian town of Mavrodendri was chosen for the installation of PV stations by private producers. The former mayor of Kozani, Lefteris Ioannidis, suggested that citizens set up their own initiative to produce energy from renewables. In March 2021, a non-profit energy community was established. Its goal is to promote social and solidarity economy in the field of energy and energy sustainability, production, storage, self-consumption, distribution and supply of energy, as well as to improve end-use energy efficiency at local and regional levels.

Example – Regional transformation

In 2019, Estonian national and regional policymakers decided to create a geopark to increase tourism by showcasing the industrial legacy landscapes created by oil shale mining. It’s not clear yet if this will be successful but it represents an attempt to transform the local economy away from oil shale and toward tourism.


 

What prompts transformative strategies?

Transformations can be unintended or deliberate. The decarbonisation of the energy systems is a deliberate transformation. We have made a deliberate decision, as a society, to move away from an energy system based on carbon, to one based on other resources.

The decision to decarbonise is the result of several factors:

  • Increasing societal awareness of the environmental and health problems caused by use of fossil fuels
  • The development of alternative, increasingly affordable, and lower-GHG-emitting sources of energy
  • The opportunity for economic growth by the renewables industry.

The remarkable economic, technical, societal, and political effort that a switch from fossil fuels to renewables will require, has resulted in the development of transformative strategies.

Unintentional transformations are those that were instigated as incremental adaptations but, as time progresses, are revealed as significant socioeconomic, political and technical shifts. For example, the German Energiewende is a massive program of energy transitions. Part of this transition involved a significant increase in individual and community ownership of energy generation assets (i.e., rooftop solar, community-owned wind). This has led to a shift in German political systems whereby these new energy interests are increasingly included and consulted by policy makers. Because these types of energy actors are fundamentally different from traditional large energy companies, they are introducing new ideas and values to German energy politics.

When are transformative strategies most likely?

The number and type of transformative strategies visible in a region is a function of the stage of advancement of the transition. In regions at earlier stages of transition, incumbent industries are still a major source of jobs and wealth for the local community. In these cases, transformative strategies will typically be used as rhetorical devices i.e. promises of transformation, rather than acts of transformation. At this stage, transformative strategies often overlap with adaptation strategies since it’s not clear if they will actually lead to transformation.

Transformations are more likely to occur during mid- to advanced transition stages. This is when carbon-intensive industries have been widely destabilised and are phasing out, political support has shifted to low carbon alternatives, and large-scale resistance has diminished. While some resistance persists, many actors have adapted by changing their behaviours. It also becomes possible to detect actions that are potentially transformative. However, these may at first appear to be incremental adaptive strategies to decarbonisation (e.g., the Western Macedonian energy community listed in the examples). With time, these actions become the component parts of a new system, oriented around low or no carbon energy systems, and based upon different values.

 


What are other types of coping strategies?

  • Resistance strategies seek to preserve current conditions and resist drivers of change. Read more.
  • Adaptation strategies attempt to protect the functioning of the existing system from substantial change. Read more.

Sources

Barnes, M. L., Bodin, Ö., Guerrero, A. M., McAllister, R. R., Alexander, S. M., & Robins, G. (2017). The social structural foundations of adaptation and transformation in social–ecological systems. Ecology and Society22(4).

Nacke, L., Jewell, J., Cherp, A. 2021. A diagnostic framework for feasibility of low carbon transitions in coal dependent regions. CINTRAN Project Report. European Union Horizon 2020 grant agreement no. 884539.

O’Brien, K. (2012). Global environmental change II: From adaptation to deliberate transformation. Progress in Human Geography36(5), 667-676.

 

Funding

 

The project CINTRAN has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 884539. The sole responsibility for the content of this publication lies with the authors and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of INEA or other EU agencies or bodies.