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date: 17 October 2017

Adaptation Governance

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science. Please check back later for the full article.

Adaptation to climate change is not just a technical issue; it is, above all, a matter of governance. Governance refers to the totality of interactions, in which public as well as private actors participate, aiming to solve societal problems or create societal opportunities. A governance arrangement is defined as the ensemble of rules, processes, and instruments that structure these interactions. Adaptation governance poses some specifically demanding challenges, like the context of institutional fragmentation, as climate change involves almost all policy domains and governance levels; the persistent uncertainties about the nature and scale of risks and proposed solutions; the need to make short-term policies based on long-term projections; and the complex science/policy relations. Furthermore, adaptation is an emerging policy field with, at least for the time being, only weakly defined ambitions, responsibilities, procedures, routines, and solutions.

Many scholars have already shown that complex problems, such as adaptation to climate change, cannot be solved in a straightforward way with actions taken by a hierarchic or mono-centric form of governance. This raises the question: How will we develop smart governance arrangements that contribute to realizing adaptation options and to increasing the adaptive capacity of society? A series of basic issues have to be addressed in designing climate adaptation governance arrangements: which problem frame to use; how to relate science and policy; at which jurisdictional level(s) to act; how to align across sectoral boundaries; when and in what sequence to act; which policy instruments to select, and what modes of leadership to pursue.

For each of these issues, some modest design principles are key. Most of them nuance dominant literature. Some examples are: bypassing the climate problem frame, which could be an alternative if the emphasis on the enormous challenges of climate change results in leaning backwards; the drawing clear boundaries between public and private responsibilities, which is as important as boundary spanning; and under certain circumstances, cherry-picking as a more effective tool than an overall mainstream strategy. In addition to effectiveness and legitimacy, resilience is an important criterion to evaluate these arrangements.