Climate change impacts of the Transition movement

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Climate change mitigation and increasing resilience to climate change impacts is an important focus for the work of Transition groups. Given the recent increase in awareness about the climate and ecological emergency, and the number of groups responding, people have questioned whether Transition is currently less relevant. To quote a respondent to the 2019 survey of British Transition groups: “I think that the Transition Town offer is exactly what’s needed. But I suspect other people think “'Oh well, that transition town stuff didn’t work… let’s try Extinction Rebellion!'

However, most groups have seen that broader frameworks are needed, that protest is needed as much and alongside longer-term community-led or wider society initiatives, and not every group needs to do the whole spectrum of action.

A Transitioner from Omställningsnätverket (Transition Sweden) reported to a Transition Network colleague: “Following the general conversation in society, strikes, scientific reports and everything, more and more people are looking for what Transition has to bring. Transition Sweden has just released a new story/campaign: "After the strike", building an understanding that protesting is just half the story, we also have to build the society we long for.”

Recent research (Poland et al., 2019[1]; Molteno, 2019[2]) has demonstrated that involvement in Transition groups or projects has contributed to carbon emissions reduction and increasing resilience. For example, 2019, Star Molteno studied participation in UK Transition groups, and concluded that “grassroots organisations such as the Transition Town Movement have an important role to play in nurturing environmentally significant behaviours … [through] the positive experiences gained from participation and the increase in motivation”.

From the 2020 survey, when asked “Where should the Transition movement focus its energy and attention in the coming years? What do you see as key areas of potential when you consider the real and pressing needs of our time?” around a third of respondents who suggested a focus on issues (33 out of 92 respondents) suggested that climate and energy should be a key focus. Achieving the goals of net zero and/or increasing climate mitigation was a popular goal for respondents.

Many Transition activities contribute to these goals, through activities focused on food and agriculture, and energy. Some Transition groups have been involved in climate emergency responses where climate-related impacts have been acute.

Narrative and vision

Against a background of differing levels of resistance to engaging with climate change (e.g. Inner Transition and Emotional methodologies) Transition groups have been exploring ways to engage the wider population with climate change action. The Transition movement can provide the social infrastructure of resources and skills (such as sustaining involvement over time and working with inner transition) that can equip people to develop response-ability to the ‘long emergency’ of climate change.

Some examples of the impacts:

Bonn im Wandel e.V, Germany: “At local level we are quite successful in telling a better narrative about our future and also making it visible with our projects if its the CSA, the Cargo Bikes, Bonn blossoms and Humms, as well as Trainings und Events about Transition, REconomy, SDGs. We wrote articles and newsletter about sense making out of Covid 19, and got very positive feedback. We also talk about Climate Change as catalyzer for change, our CSA and our community gardens are affected by heatwaves and start experimenting with permaculture techniques at low level.

Transition Town Tooting, UK: “We have developed a culture of the 'possible'; closing the busy A24 for a Carnival to reimagine the future, transforming a bus turning circle into a pop up village green - imaginative ideas collectively manifested by large numbers in the community - across age and cultural difference.”

Collaboration and influencing

Many Transition groups initiate or are involved with collaboration on climate change responses with broad local alliances, including local government.

Projects such as Municipalities in Transition have generated and supported communities of practice at both local and trans-national scales to develop creative collaborative opportunities for experimentation and learning. The Municipalities in Transition 2nd report (Macedo, 2019) indicated that the opportunities to share learning were “useful and essential for the social learning process (e.g. shared understanding of what matters, identity, boundary crossing, commitment)” (p. 48), and highlighted the potential for further developing such learning and action communities.

In Valsmoggia, Italy, the group “actively supports various municipal administrators in the management of the territory. …[through] Activation and support for the work of the "Climate Emergency Table" - a work table that involves all local political forces and works with dynamic governance models (Sociocracy 3.0) and with a systemic and complex approach to reality ... [and] 3) Activation of a project to create new energy communities (in collaboration with the reference institutes of the territory)

Some groups are using the resurgent interested in climate change alongside participatory processes such as citizens assemblies to conduct broader enquiries into zero-carbon futures, with the aim of engaging wider groups in the conversation.

In Bonn, the Transition group initiated an inquiry into how a city-wide process could engage broader actors to work together for a climate neutral city:

Within the last 12 months we drafted a concept of participation and cocreation for a climate neutral city. It is called "Bonn4Future - we for the climate". We started with explorative talks with initiatives, experts, representatives of the City administration and politics about the question "what has to happen that the transformation towards a climate neutral city would be successful and a process I would love to contribute?" based on this inquiry and the experiences in other cities such as Totnes or Marburg we cocreated the concept for a city wide process. This process was supported by more than 50 organisations, enterpriseses and initiatives. It was adapted by the council of the city of Bonn on 2nd of September 2020. On 1st of December the city wide project will start" See Bonn For Future. and Bonn im Wandel.

[link to governance]

Increasing resilience to climate change impacts  

Local resilience has been a constant feature of Transition, and one which has become more important with the frequency and severity of climate change impacts. Examples from north America include:

-     From Cooperation Humboldt, CA, USA: providing direct assistance to: “fire refugees who came into our community, and are shifting that program to Disaster Response & Community Resilience “

-          sharing models for resilient neighbourhoods from B.C, Canada: “we are getting more requests from as far as California to share the Connect and Prepare model".

-          "We have focused primarily on food security, skills building, off-grid and other related topics … [and] given workshops on climate readiness" [Canada]

In Transition Japan, local resilience has included awareness raising and practical preparedness, and highlighting the links between extreme weather events and the climate emergency:

 “The threat of natural disasters such as typhoons and floods is increasing year by year, and awareness of disaster prevention is increasing in urban areas that are considered to be vulnerable to disasters. In particular, in Bunkyo Ward, which is the base of activities, we are encouraging residents to help themselves, and an increasing number of groups are working on disaster prevention in their civic activities”.

Transition Fujino: “Regarding abnormal weather, we have reached the point where we issue a "climate emergency declaration" in Sagamihara City”.


  1. Poland, B. et al. (2019) ‘The emergence of the transition movement in Canada: success and impact through the eyes of initiative leaders’, Local Environment, 24(3), pp. 180–200. doi: 10.1080/13549839.2018.1555579.
  2. Molteno, S. (2019) The challenge of fostering pro-environmental behaviour -­‐ exploring the impact of participation in Transition Town initiatives. Masters Thesis.