Perspective | Published:

Governance of social dilemmas in climate change adaptation

Nature Climate Change volume 6, pages 354359 (2016) | Download Citation

Abstract

In the field of adaptation governance research, current discussion on the barriers to adaptation shows that theoretical explanations for why institutions emerge and how they enable or constrain adaptation are underdeveloped. In this Perspective, we show that there is a significant opportunity to advance the understanding of adaptation governance by integrating insights that have been developed in the extensive commons literature on the institutions that work to overcome social conflicts or dilemmas. 'Realist-materialist' approaches to understanding such collective action are particularly valuable to adaptation governance research because they emphasize how biophysical conditions give rise to certain types of social dilemma. Climate change affects these biophysical conditions, and thus may alter dilemmas or create new ones. Based on realist-materialist reasoning, this Perspective describes six types of dilemma, illustrates each with a case from the adaptation literature and draws on insights from the commons literature regarding relevant contextual conditions and effective policy instruments for overcoming social dilemmas. The dilemma types provide entry points for rigorous comparative adaptation research to deepen understanding of how context influences adaptation governance processes.

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Acknowledgements

This work has been supported by the EU-funded projects RISES-AM (grant no. 603396) and GREEN-WIN (grant no. 642018).

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Global Climate Forum (GCF), Neue Promenade 6, 10178 Berlin, Germany

    • Alexander Bisaro
    •  & Jochen Hinkel
  2. Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Division of Resource Economics, Albrecht Daniel Thaer-Institute, Faculty of Life Sciences, Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin, Germany

    • Jochen Hinkel

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Contributions

A.B. initiated the planning of the project and conducted systematic literature reviews. Both authors contributed equally to the intellectual content and the drafting, revision and editing of the text.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alexander Bisaro.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate2936

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