The governance of adaptation: choices, reasons, and effects. Introduction to the Special Feature

D. Huitema, W.N. Adger, F.G.H. Berkhout, E.E. Massey, D. Mazmanian, S. Munaretto, R. Plummer, C.C.J.A.M. Termeer

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The governance of climate adaptation involves the collective efforts of multiple societal actors to address problems, or to reap the benefits, associated with impacts of climate change. Governing involves the creation of institutions, rules and organizations, and the selection of normative principles to guide problem solution and institution building. We argue that actors involved in governing climate change adaptation, as climate change governance regimes evolve, inevitably must engage in making choices, for instance on problem definitions, jurisdictional levels, on modes of governance and policy instruments, and on the timing of interventions. Yet little is known about how and why these choices are made in practice, and how such choices affect the outcomes of our efforts to govern adaptation. In this introduction we review the current state of evidence and the specific contribution of the articles published in this Special Feature, which are aimed at bringing greater clarity in these matters, and thereby informing both governance theory and practice. Collectively, the contributing papers suggest that the way issues are defined has important consequences for the support for governance interventions, and their effectiveness. The articles suggest that currently the emphasis in adaptation governance is on the local and regional levels, while underscoring the benefits of interventions and governance at higher jurisdictional levels in terms of visioning and scaling-up effective approaches. The articles suggest that there is a central role of government agencies in leading governance interventions to address spillover effects, to provide public goods, and to promote the long-term perspectives for planning. They highlight the issue of justice in the governance of adaptation showing how governance measures have wide distributional consequences, including the potential to amplify existing inequalities, access to resources, or generating new injustices through distribution of risks. For several of these findings, future research directions are suggested.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3
Pages (from-to)37
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

open access


  • adaptation
  • climate change
  • governance


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