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Climate change adaptation, business model innovation and socio-economic assemblages: A relational analysis of adaptive processes

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

The impacts of climate change will worsen existing problems of insecurity, poverty, inequality and environmental degradation. This multiplier effect requires strategic attention from all social actors. Current climate adaptation research focused on the role of the State and community- and individual-level adaptation, with limited analysis and empirical evidence available on adaptation by the private sector.
This thesis addresses this research gap by analysing how medium and large firms respond to interruptions to business routines caused by climate-related impacts by studying the firm and different actors as economic assemblages where resources, innovation and relationships shape adaptation. The different forms of adaptive actions are forcing these assemblages of the firms themselves and their associates (including workers and host communities) to reconfigure their social and economic functions in distinct adaptation trajectories with different emergent properties. Informed by development theory, economic geography and emerging studies in climate adaptation, this thesis proposes a framework to understand individual firms’ adaptive measures framing their adaptive behaviour in relational processes.
Climate change adaptation has a temporal dimension, one that requires to understand the past as a given location, to understand the sources of risk and vulnerability have accumulated through historical processes associated with a variety of social and economic factors, such as land tenure rights, uses of technology, governance processes, poverty and knowledge. It also has a temporal dimension that looks into the future, which requires foresight, flexibility and action to build capacities to cope with the impacts of extreme climate events and rapidly changing climate patterns of climate change.
A characterisation of adaptive actions provided insights into some of these processes in early adopter firms business structures and mechanisms, which evidenced how firms mobilised resources, expertise, information and local innovation in response to climate stress, suggesting different implications of social well-being along supply chains. The thesis argues that established business configurations are failing to undertake adaptation without creating social trade-offs in these local assemblages, due to a failure to normalise socially oriented adaptive actions into their business model.
There is currently an opportunity being missed to take advantage of the social nature of adaptation process to renegotiate more egalitarian relationships between firms and their associates and stakeholders that enhance social well-being and preserve developmental gains. Such negotiations will depend upon recognition of the interdependence between the multitude of actors experiencing climate stress to develop the capabilities necessary for equitable adaptation processes and outcomes under a changing planet. The technical and development approached to leverage the private sector capabilities to contribute to sustainable development, remain largely driven by models and practices that appeal to economic and capitalist views of social life. As climate change presses on social systems, new thresholds begin to be visualised, which present unique challenges for society.
The thesis presents technical responses to climate stimuli which seek incremental adjustments to maintain present functions, but in doing so, these practices reveal the limit to adaptation and potential for forced transformation, where power and resources determine adaptation trajectories. A more just and desirable form of transformation is then considered, one based on a common language and co-production of new ideas and practices, which through cooperation and communication can allow for collective adaptation trajectories, beyond technocratic solutions to “the problem of climate change”, but as new spaces to challenge ideas of the private and public.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date2018


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