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Applying Climate Services to Transformative Adaptation in Agriculture

As climate change increasingly affects agriculture around the world, reliable, timely, and targeted information about weather and climate conditions is becoming an ever more urgent requirement for adaptation decision-making.

This paper considers how transformative adaptation – long-term, systemic change to fundamental aspects of systems in response to or anticipation of severe climate change impacts - could be accelerated by enhancing climate services and how they are applied.

The paper explores how components of climate services – defined as systems to develop and provide climate information to meet users’ needs - could be enhanced for building and implementing transformative pathways. It looks at current challenges and opportunities in climate service design and suggests how different types of information and data can be used to better integrate climate services into adaptation and development plans for systemic change. The paper concludes by providing recommendations for researchers, policymakers, and adaptation funding entities.

Key Findings

Executive Summary


  • Climate change is already pushing some natural and human systems to their limits. Increasingly severe impacts on agricultural systems will require transformative adaptation—that is, significant changes to fundamental aspects of agricultural systems in response to or anticipation of longer-term climate-change impacts.
  • Climate services (CS) have generated sophisticated knowledge about climate change and its impacts on agricultural production across timescales, but they could be enhanced to support transformative adaptation. Enhanced CS would be designed specifically to help higher-level decision-makers like adaptation funders, governments, and development planners understand where, when, and what kind of transformative adaptation measures will be needed and guide long-term climate resilience.
  • Enhanced CS would include information to help adaptation planners, funders, and practitioners better apply medium- and longer-term climate-change projections, combined with crop models and expert analysis, to gain insights into where and when existing agricultural systems may no longer be viable, assess more resilient options, and map pathways for change.
  • Better climate information will be inadequate unless it is integrated into adaptation and development planning, policy, and investments. This requires the inclusive, participatory development of sustainable platforms that align climate research, development, and applications with policy and planning processes.


As per Carter et al. (2018), this paper defines transformative adaptation for agriculture as intentional alterations that are so significant that they change fundamental aspects of agricultural production systems in response to or in anticipation of climate impacts. Such alterations are generally at broad scale and often include one or more of the following attributes:

  • Shifting the geographical locations where specific types of crops and livestock are produced and the systems that support them are located; and/or
  • Applying new methodologies and technologies that substantially change the types of agricultural products or the way existing ones are produced within a particular region or production system; and/or
  • Fundamentally altering a region’s predominant type of agricultural landscape—for example, from cropping to aquaculture—as the result of changes to multiple aspects of food production systems and/or supply chains.

Transformative approaches offer the potential to reduce crisis and conflict, avoid maladaptation, and ensure that adaptation investments made today will prove strategic further into the future (Carter et al. 2018). This paper explores how CS—systems for developing and providing climate information to meet users’ needs (WMO 2018)— could be enhanced and applied to advance transformative adaptation in agriculture where and when it is needed.

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