Conceptualising variations in societal transformations towards sustainability


Calls for societal transformations in response to climate change and unsustainable trajectories are surging in scientific journals, political proposals and news media. The multifaceted usages of the concept of transformation creates challenges for scientific assessments, such as those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, as well as for the implementation of the Paris Agreement process, the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development, the EU’s long-term climate strategy, the European Green Deal, and other political decisions. In this paper, we suggest an analytical framework to differentiate between how sustainability transformations are made sense of in terms of system level, pace and scope. We distinguish between four general modes of transformations: quantum leap, convergent, emergent, and gradual approaches. We also discuss how they can be used to make sense of interventions to foster major sustainability transformations. We expand on three examples of interventions that were pertinent in our cross-country studies: technological innovations, transformative learning and the formulation of new narratives of sustainable societies.


Societal transformations; Sustainable development; Decarbonization; Sense-making; Governance; Transformations typology; Conceptual framework; 2030 Agenda; Paris Agreement

Authors of this publication

Björn-Ola Linnér , Victoria Wibeck ,