Mechanism-based explanations of impasses in the governance of ecosystem-based adaptation

Ina Maren Sieber*, Robbert Biesbroek, Debora de Block

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Many climate change adaptation scholars recognise the complexities in the governance of adaptation. Most have used the concept of ‘barriers to adaptation’ in an attempt to describe why governance of adaptation is challenging. However, these studies have recently been critiqued for over simplifying complex governance processes by referring to the static concept of barriers, thereby ignoring dynamic complexity as a root explanatory cause. This paper builds the argument that how barriers are currently used in the literature is insufficient to explain why the governance of adaptation often proves difficult. We adopt a so-called mechanism-based approach to investigate how and why the governance of ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) reaches impasses in five cases in Thailand and the Netherlands. Our findings show six causal mechanisms that explain impasses in the five case studies: (1) frame polarisation, (2) timing synchronisation, (3) risk innovation, (4) rules of the game, (5) veto players and (6) lost in translation. Several of these causal mechanisms are recurring and emerge under specific contextual conditions or are activated by other mechanisms. Our findings provide valuable insights into the impasses in the governance of EbA and allow for critical reflections on the analytical value of the mechanism-based approach in explaining why the governance of adaptation proves difficult and how this can be overcome.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2379–2390
JournalRegional Environmental Change
Issue number8
Early online date12 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018


  • Barriers
  • Climate change
  • Ecosystem-based adaptation
  • Governance
  • Mechanisms


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