This working paper examines case studies of three communities in Bhutan, Ethiopia, and Costa Rica that are already experiencing severe impacts of climate change. These case studies explore the incremental and transformative adaptation measures they have adopted or will need to in the future. They focus on challenges that include water scarcity, degraded landscapes, and failing crop production. The paper also identifies the drivers of transformative adaptation as well as gaps in these communities’ transformative pathways to long-term resilience. Based on findings from community focus group discussions, expert interviews, and project documents, the authors provide a series of recommendations to inform policies and practices on how governments, adaptation funders, researchers and practitioners can support communities across the world to build long-term climate resilience at scale.

Key Findings

  • The case studies in this paper illustrate the ways climate change is already threatening the natural and human systems that communities depend on. Current ways of managing these systems are becoming untenable. Communities within these systems may not recognize that these are long-term, irreversible changes rather than short-term fluctuations in precipitation and temperatures. They may not have the financial or technical support to plan for shifting entire systems, or even be certain which direction of change should head in. Some are recognizing the challenges they face and are beginning to transform key systems. However, they are largely doing so without external support or guidance, or consideration of long-term impacts on financial and natural resources. This limits the sustainability and scalability of what communities alone can achieve and spotlights the need for greater technical and financial support for transformative adaptation.
  • While these case study locations are very much in the midst of their transformations, local experts and community members can identify key drivers for their success thus far and recognize existing barriers. Factors such as community-led planning processes, mobilized change agents, and linking funding with sequenced planning are evident drivers. Meanwhile, factors such as availability of systems data and assessments, market incentives, and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) infrastructure are important to sustain system shifts, but ultimately limited without national or international support.
  • Transforming water systems in Tsirang Toed, Bhutan. This case study focuses on a National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA) II project addressing water scarcity in Tsirang Toed. Based on findings from community focus group discussions, expert interviews, and project documents, WRI makes the following recommendations to strengthen this region’s long-term supply of water:
    • Continue climate-resilient water management projects, focusing on longer-term, sustainable measures such as creating new ponds and reservoirs and replacing invasive plants and trees with native ones that require less water.
    • Target donor and public funds at investing in automated climate and water monitoring stations to improve planning and reporting of water supplies.
    • Improve integration of local knowledge, coordination and collaboration between community members, government entities, and technical experts when planning and implementing nature-based solutions to water scarcity.
  • Transforming degraded landscapes in Tigray, Ethiopia. This case study investigates a transformative pathway focusing on landscape restoration in Tigray. WRI advises the following measures to ensure a longer-term strategy for reaching climate-resilient restoration at scale while sustaining outcomes:
    • Improve coordination and collaboration community members, government entities and technical experts to scale impacts and optimize efficient investments.
    • Identify and mobilize community change agents in areas still struggling to implement sustainable, climate-resilient restoration.
    • Invest in data beyond tree cover (e.g. climate, socioeconomic, natural resources) to advise on suitable climate-resilient restoration interventions with equitable outcomes.
  • Transforming coffee agriculture to citrus cultivation in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. This case study illustrates the autonomous transformation from coffee to citrus cultivation by smallholder coffee farmers. It observes that farmers who have greater access to resources are more able to make such changes on their own. It also identifies ways to better support less prosperous coffee farmers who are struggling to adapt to climate change. WRI provides the following recommendations to help this coffee-growing region in Costa Rica develop long-term solutions for economic sustainability:
    • Conduct a regional multi-criteria analysis and impact assessment of the long-term viability of citrus fruit production, as well as additional alternative crops.
    • Earmark public and donor loans and credit for coffee farmers facing climate-induced tipping points to transition to new livelihoods.
    • Invest in public-private collaborations that establish a timely, effective, transparent surveillance and communication platform for citrus diseases, which are made worse by climate change.

Executive Summary

Full executive summary available in the paper.