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Climate Adaptation Governance Mechanisms

Discover how actors can overcome challenges to climate adaptation governance.
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In this article, you will learn more about climate adaptation governance mechanisms and associated challenges.

We classified the challenges broadly to be in:

  1. Context of Divisions, for example in the case of flooding in rural areas, this problem may be addressed by the ministry in charge of water, ministry for agriculture and ministry for disaster management; all with different goals.
  2. Invention of New Policy domain. Addressing climate change effects by adjusting existing policy is inefficient; explicit climate change policy needs to be developed.
  3. Inherent uncertainties in a Knowledge-Intensive domain. It is difficult to predict the exact effects of climate change; this makes it hard to plan.

So how can we try to overcome these challenges?

Enabling Climate Adaptation Governance

The proposed mechanisms are

  1. Organising cooperation (connectivity),
  2. (Re)allocating responsibilities,
  3. Dealing with controversies.

Let’s deal with each one in turn.

Organising Cooperation in Governance

Governance systems that have to deal with climate change often have many divisions. For example, flooding may need to be handled by city/town planning authorities, water authorities and disaster management authorities. According to Termeer et al., cooperation in governance (connectivity) means bringing actors, issues, sectors and scale levels together to achieve innovative climate adaptation solutions. The solutions are representative of the different understanding of the problem, and different ideas of how to solve them.

There are four methods that can be used to increase the cooperation between sectors. These are:

Leadership – Collaborative leadership is needed in order to bring actors from different sectors (for example water management, or planning), together under the common goal of developing effective climate adaptation policy. This kind of leadership should cultivate legitimacy and trust within the existing governance structures. The leaders could be appointed to specifically deal with climate change, or they could be champions from most affected sectors of government, seeking joint problem-solving among other collaborative strategies.

Innovation through living labs – Due to the complex nature of climate adaptation (involvement of many actors, uncertainty in relation to predictions), it is necessary to create a space where solutions can be tested before they are presented to the real world. One way of doing this is by formulation of living labs. These living labs allow for innovative policy solutions to be interrogated, modified or re-formulated by stakeholders, prior to implementation.

Connecting scale levels – Climate adaptation policy plans are mostly formulated at the global, regional and national governance levels, but they need to be implemented at the sub-national level. This top-down path can lead to some conflict where local stakeholders feel that the new policy infringes on their rights. This can be overcome by improved mainstreaming of policy development processes, including a feedback loop. Through the feedback loop re-assessment of policy can take place, resulting in compromise and implementation of long-term policy rather than quick fixes.

Connecting policy domains – There needs to be integration of climate adaptation into existing policy development structures. Usually, innovative solutions need to be developed with the backdrop of existing laws and procedures. This backdrop should be brought into focus during policy development and strategies developed to integrate the new policy with an existing one, or reform an existing policy to fit climate adaptation. This signals for negotiation and synchronization in governance through liaison officers or climate adaptation ambassadors.

(Re) Allocating Responsibilities

Climate adaptation governance involves different actors. These actors have or perceive different responsibilities for climate adaptation strategies. The reallocation of responsibilities is two-fold:

  1. Reallocation of responsibilities to public and/or private organisations – Climate adaptation has public-good characteristics and requires collective action and governmental responsibilities. However, the private sector also plays a role in developing adaptation strategies. We will examine the public-private sector in more detail later this week.
  2. Reallocation of Costs and Benefits – This involves developing new economic instruments and incentives for climate adaptation. Traditional instruments are taxes and levies. Innovative ones include creation of water markets or climate service arrangements. We will delve into these alternative finance options in Week 3.

Dealing with Controversies

In order to develop innovative climate adaptation strategies, stakeholders have to deal with differences in problem identification and goal setting and contested knowledge. It is difficult to include differences without paralyzing decision-making processes. It needs the use of mechanisms such as negotiation, learning, dialogue and co-production of knowledge. One approach is by attracting other stakeholders/actors to a particular problem identification and goal. Another approach could be connecting different problems/goals and the third approach is by negotiating a policy deal despite the differences. The scientific knowledge on climate change is developed at global and regional scale. The knowledge on impacts and climate models needs to be downscaled to a geographical level of information relevant and useful to the actors.

These three mechanisms could be used to improve how policies for climate adaptation can be developed.


Think about adaptation implementation in your country. How can cooperation across sectors be improved? Please share with others in the discussion section.

© University of Groningen
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Making Climate Adaptation Happen: Governing Transformation Strategies for Climate Change

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