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WIREs Clim Change
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Mitigation and adaptation in polycentric systems: sources of power in the pursuit of collective goals

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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 climate action. We review emerging evidence on power within polycentric and distributed governance across the climate, forestry, marine, coastal, urban, and water sectors, and relate them to established positions on power within research on federalism, decentralization, international relations, and networked governance. We develop a typology of design, pragmatic, and framing power that focuses on how and in whose interests power is mobilized to achieve outcomes. We propose that the 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.

Different polycentric structures in three climate‐affected regions. (a) A strong and highly decentralized polycentric system in coastal California (USA), for example, where the open coast and San Francisco Bay area are regulated by entirely different state laws and governing bodies. The California State Government has historically played an equal or greater agenda‐setting role in climate mitigation and adaptation than the national government; however it is restricted by the significant administrative powers and responsibilities held by the 74 coastal cities and counties. (b) The climate‐affected Murray–Darling Basin (Australia) covers four states and a federal territory within a centralizing federal system that is signatory to a number of international conventions. This is regarded as a moderate form of polycentrism which is becoming less polycentric as it centralizes. (c) The climate‐exposed North Sea coast of Germany is cooperatively managed by five states and the national government, which is also a member of the European Union. This example is regarded as a nascent form of polycentrism, which is still subject to issues of fragmentation.
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Exponential growth of scientific interest in polycentric governance. Citations to Vincent Ostrom's seminal article on polycentric governance (black) and published articles on polycentric governance (gray).
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Policy and Governance > Multilevel and Transnational Climate Change Governance

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