Global Challenges, Governance, and Complexity
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Global Challenges, Governance, and Complexity

Applications and Frontiers

Edited by Victor Galaz

There is an increased interest in integrating insights from the complexity sciences to studies of governance and policy. While the issue has been debated, and the term of ‘complexity’ has multiple and sometimes contested interpretations, it is also clear the field has spurred a number of interesting theoretical and empirical efforts. The book includes key thinkers in the field, elaborates on different analytical approaches in studying governance, institutions and policy in the face of complexity, and showcases empirical applications and insights.
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Chapter 7: Polycentric governance and climate change

Dave Huitema, Andrew Jordan, Harro van Asselt and James Patterson


This chapter deals with the performance of polycentric governance, focusing specifically on how well it handles the distinct complexities associated with climate change. The notion of polycentric governance emerged in the early 1960s, but its popularity increased greatly after one of its chief exponents, Elinor Ostrom, was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics in 2009 and thereafter began to apply it to the wicked problem of climate change. This chapter investigates whether the concept of polycentric governance as a solution for climate change holds weight or not, and why. To that end we first discuss what makes climate change so fiendishly complex, and what implications this has for attempts to govern it. Subsequently we describe what polycentric governance entails, and why its advocates believe it is ideally suited to addressing climate change – for instance because it is said to lead to more experimentation at local levels, enabling greater levels of exchange, learning and innovation between governors. In the final section we explore whether these theoretical expectations are actually borne out in practice, which leads to cautious conclusions.

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