Polycentric governance and climate change

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

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book / Report / Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


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.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGlobal Challenges, Governance, and Complexity
Subtitle of host publicationApplications and Frontiers
EditorsVictor Galaz
PublisherEdward Elgar Publishing Ltd.
Number of pages23
ISBN (Electronic)9781788115421
ISBN (Print)9781788115414
Publication statusPublished - 2 Dec 2019


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