Mitigation and adaptation in polycentric systems: sources of power in the pursuit of collective goals

Tiffany H. Morrison*, W. Neil Adger, Katrina Brown, Maria Carmen Lemos, Dave Huitema, Terry P. Hughes

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


Polycentric governance involves multiple actors at multiple scales beyond the state. The potential of polycentric governance for promoting both climate mitigation and adaptation is well established. Yet, dominant conceptualizations of polycentric governance pay scant attention to how power dynamics affect the structure and the outcomes of climate action. We review emerging evidence on power within polycentric and distributed governance across the climate, forestry, marine, coastal, urban, and water sectors, and relate them to established positions on power within research on federalism, decentralization, international relations, and networked governance. We develop a typology of design, pragmatic, and framing power that focuses on how and in whose interests power is mobilized to achieve outcomes. We propose that the conceptual model helps to explain power dynamics across different sectors and across both climate change mitigation and adaptation. Significant research challenges arising from the analysis include the measurement and monitoring of the outcomes of power asymmetries over time. WIREs Clim Change 2017, 8:e479. doi: 10.1002/wcc.479. For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere479
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews. Climate Change
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2017

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  • Science for Sustainability


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