The role of knowledge and power in climate change adaptation governance: a systematic literature review

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46 Citations (Scopus)


The long-term character of climate change and the high costs of adaptation measures, in combination with their uncertain effects, turn climate adaptation governance into a torturous process. We systematically review the literature on climate adaptation governance to analyze the scholarly understanding of these complexities. Building on governance literature about long-term and complex policy problems, we develop a conceptual matrix based on the dimensions knowledge and power to systematically study the peer-reviewed literature on climate adaptation governance. We find that about a quarter of the reviewed journal articles do not address the knowledge or power dimension of the governance of climate change adaptation, about half of the articles discuss either the knowledge or the power dimension, and another quarter discuss both knowledge and power. The articles that do address both knowledge and power (1) conceptualize the governance of climate adaptation mainly as a complex system of regulatory frameworks and technical knowledge, (2) assume that regulatory systems can be easily adapted to new knowledge, (3) pay little attention to fluid or unorganized forms of power, e.g., negotiation, and knowledge, e.g., learning, and (4) largely neglect the interplay between the two. We argue that more research on this interplay is needed, and we discuss how puzzling and powering are a promising pair of concepts to study this.
Original languageEnglish
Article number46
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • climatic change
  • climate adaptation
  • governance
  • government policy
  • adaptive capacity
  • cayman islands
  • policy
  • vulnerability
  • africa
  • future

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