Research Handbook on Climate Governance
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Research Handbook on Climate Governance

Edited by Karin Bäckstrand and Eva Lövbrand

The 2009 United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen is often represented as a watershed in global climate politics, when the diplomatic efforts to negotiate a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol failed and was replaced by a fragmented and decentralized climate governance order. In the post-Copenhagen landscape the top-down universal approach to climate governance has gradually given way to a more complex, hybrid and dispersed political landscape involving multiple actors, arenas and sites. The Handbook contains contributions from more than 50 internationally leading scholars and explores the latest trends and theoretical developments of the climate governance scholarship.
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Chapter 41: Adaptation

Lisa Dilling


As it becomes clearer that the earth is ‘committed’ to a certain amount of climate change despite greenhouse gas mitigation activities, the need for adaptation policy has been increasingly recognized. However, the fact that climate will be changing in uncertain and potentially unknown ways makes it difficult in many cases to develop firm prescriptive policy recommendations based on the environmental conditions of the future. As a result, the question of what successful adaptation policy looks like is still very much debated. Theoretical studies have advanced several different concepts of adaptation and its counterpart, vulnerability. The adaptation literature has focused on identifying characteristics of the decision process that might be effective in a deeply uncertain, highly contested and contextualized arena, such as flexibility, ‘robust’ decision-making, barriers that obstruct change, adaptive capacity, risk tolerance, and limits to adaptation. The discussion of limits has provoked considerations of transformational adaptation, and how and in what circumstances such transformations take place. Simple prescriptions for policy such as ‘no regrets’ or ‘low regrets’ actions seem inadequate as a substitute for true climate adaptation policy—although certainly may provide a useful starting place. Fundamentally we might ask: what is needed for effective governance for climate adaptation given the range of worldviews about risk? Does climate adaptation pose different governance challenges than responding to already recognized risk and uncertainty? And, even more importantly, what should various publics expect from decision-makers as they proceed to govern in the face of climate change?

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