Governance of social dilemmas in climate change adaptation

March 2016 |
Nature Climate Change
Alexander Bisaro, Jochen Hinkel

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, the authors 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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