Skip main navigation

Public and private actors in climate adaptation governance

We dive deep into the relations between public and private actors in climate adaptation governance. Let's explore.
Public and private button
© Storyblocks

If a precise allocation of responsibilities improves governance for adaptation, then the challenge is what kind of sharing responsibilities is possible among public and/or private actors for adaptation policy.

Let’s see the roles assigned to each sector and why.

Public (government) responsibilities

The argument for public involvement in adaptation is due to market failure. For example, the market may not have enough information for adaptation action, so the public steps in to develop and distribute knowledge on climate adaptation.

The government may also take action on matters related to population safety and security. For example, protection from storm surges through the construction of infrastructure such as dykes, planning for future disasters and compensation for losses due to climate change impacts are seen as a public responsibility.

Private responsibilities

The private sector is involved to increase the efficiency of adaptation policy development. The private sector is also involved because of markets.

Free markets in climate services lead to increased levels of prosperity for example Uganda has implemented standard operating procedures to protect its agricultural sector against riverine floods and drought (Jjemba et al.,2018).

The free markets also boost innovative power by encouraging investments into new products and production methods. The involvement of the private sector encourages public support for adaptation policy.

Both are needed

Climate adaptation policy development is complex and multi-scalar. It should involve actors from both the public and private sectors.

This often means that hybrid governance strategies are necessary. Mees et al., (2012) proposed a conceptual framework to explain public-private relations based on the ‘JEP triangle’ of Nelissen (2002). The framework is made up of three perspectives: economic, political and judicial. JEP triangle

Figure: An Analytical approach for considerations underlying the public-private divide, based on Nelissen (2002) Courtesy of H.L.P. Mees et al., 2012.

  • Judicial perspective – it concerns the influence of laws, regulations, principles and norms on public-private relations. Top-down governance through regulations and policies is emphasized. Two key considerations have been derived: ‘Rule of Law’ and ‘Fairness’.
  • Economic perspective – this takes the balance and distribution of costs and benefits as the main influence on public-private relations. Coordination and steering occur preferably through market mechanisms such as price and competition. Its considerations are ‘Efficiency’ and ‘Securing Adaptation Action’.
  • Political perspective – this is based on the influence of reciprocity between competing interests and trust, on public-private relations. The main strategy is based on deliberative policy networks. It is represented by the considerations of ‘Legitimacy’ and ‘Accountability’.

These multiple perspectives define the competing forms of reasoning by actors. This implies that there are inherent tensions between the considerations, therefore trade-offs need to be made.

If you’d like to learn more about climate adaptation, check out the full online course, from The University of Groningen, below.


Heleen L.P. Mees , Peter P.J. Driessen & Hens A.C. Runhaar (2012) Exploring the Scope of Public and Private Responsibilities for Climate Adaptation, Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, 14:3, 305-330.

Jjemba, E. W., Mwebaze, B. K., Arrighi, J., de Perez, E. C., & Bailey, M. (2018). Forecast-Based Financing and Climate Change Adaptation: Uganda Makes History Using Science to Prepare for Floods. In Resilience (pp. 237-242). Elsevier.

© University of Groningen
This article is from the free online

Making Climate Adaptation Happen: Governing Transformation Strategies for Climate Change

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now