As observed and predicted losses and damages from climate change impacts grow increasingly severe, calls for transformation as a response to long-term climate change have become more frequent. Transformational approaches have also been integrated into the global climate change regime under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as part of the workplan of the Executive Committee guiding the implementation of the Warsaw international mechanism, the oversight body on loss and damage. However, there has as yet been no attempt to define what is meant by transformation in the context of loss and damage.

This paper attempts to clarify the burgeoning academic and policy literature by positing three types of transformation as a response to loss and damage: transformation as adaptation (an intensification of dominant socio-ecological relationships), transformation as extension (when the limits of established adaptive capacity are reached) and transformation as liberation (adopting development pathways that address the root causes of vulnerability). Transformation as liberation is proposed as a deeper change to social-technological systems to avoid and minimize loss and damage in ways that enhance social justice and sustainability. To provide the kind of information decision makers need to plan and implement transformation as liberation, more research is needed on how to plan in a way that ensures the most equitable outcomes.

Key policy insights

• Loss and Damage is an opportunity to scrutinize and address the root causes of vulnerability.

• Framing climate change as a development crisis will allow opportunities for transformation as liberation to emerge.

• Transformation as liberation to address the root causes of vulnerability requires meaningful engagement with processes at all levels.

• A new model of global governance is needed in which global equity is a moral imperative.

• The transition to transformation as liberation must be just, which requires leadership, inclusive and participatory decision making and building alliances.

• The global Loss and Damage agenda could open up space for a broader discussion on how transformation as liberation can be facilitated to address inequalities both between and within countries.