Environment

Mitigation and Adaptation in Polycentric Systems

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 governance.

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 governance. The issue of power is extremely important in all governance systems, not least climate governance. An advanced review published in WIREs Climate Change casts analytic attention and raises a call for action in relation to the hitherto mostly hidden, or glossed over power dynamics at play in the polycentric governance regimes that increasingly pervade climate and other environmental policy regimes and practices. The authors do so in order to more usefully bring power relations into analyses of climate governance structures and policies. The article reviews emerging evidence on power within polycentric and distributed governance across the climate, forestry, marine, coastal, urban, and water sectors, and relates them to established positions on power within research on federalism, decentralization, international relations, and networked governance. The analysis underscores the need to take a more systematic and sophisticated approach to analyzing power dynamics in polycentric governance regimes. The authors articulate three different types of power that can guide such analysis. The typology – of design, pragmatic, and framing power – focuses on how and in whose interests power is mobilized to achieve outcomes. This 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.

Text contributed by Tiffany Morrison.

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