Climate change presents the need and opportunity for what the Stern report called ‘major, non-marginal change’. Such transformational adaptation is rapidly emerging as a serious topic in agriculture. This paper provides an overview of the topic as it applies to agriculture, focusing on the Australian situation. It does so by first defining transformational adaptation, distinguishing it from other more incremental but overlapping modes of climate change adaptation and positing its emergence in agriculture as a response to both drivers and opportunities. The multiple dimensions of transformational adaptation are highlighted before two types or cases are focussed upon in order to tease out issues and highlight two major examples of transformation in agriculture in the past. Four key issues about climate change adaptation in agriculture particularly pertinent for transformational adaptation are then reviewed: the identification, level, distribution and management of the costs of adaptation; the definition, potential for and need to avoid maladaptation; the capacity demands that this level of adaptation presents; and the role of government in adaptation. Overall, transformational adaptation poses potential great gains but also great risks. It reinforces the realisation that agricultural research can no longer remain insulated from off-farm, non-science or non-agricultural knowledge or processes. Support and guidance of transformational adaptation requires that we understand how Australian agriculture is currently, and could be, positioned within the landscape, rural communities, and broader social, political and cultural environment.
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Vol. 63 • No. 3