1.5 Textbook chapter 1 Polycentric climate governance

After your first orientation to the topic of polycentric climate governance, you will now focus on the broader context of the term polycentric governance and why you should use the concept to describe, explain and prescribe polycentric governance. These topics are discussed in detail in the introduction chapter of the textbook ‘Governing Climate Change: Polycentricity in action?’.

First watch the short video clip of Andy Jordan in which he explains the aim of the textbook and the introduction chapter. Specifically focus on his arguments why you should take a polycentric view towards climate change governance. Start the video by clicking on the image.

Read Chapter 1 “Polycentric climate change governance: setting the stage” of Jordan at al, that you can find here. In this chapter several reasons to study climate change governance from a polycentric perspective are presented (§1 and 2), the origin of the term polycentricity is explored and polycentric governance is defined by 5 core propositions (§3), and an overview of the book is set out (§4).

Questions to guide reading
(Answer the reading questions to test your understanding of the text. Check your answer by clicking on the question.)

  • 1. Which reasons do the authors give to study climate change governance from a polycentric perspective?
    In the book chapter and the video clip of Andy Jordan several arguments to study climate change governance from a polycentric perspective are given. These reasons can be grouped in three main aspects: 1) The descriptive argument that the current climate change governance landscape consist of more than the top-down led governance of the UNFCCC. The polycentric governance approach enables to describe the diverse actors and their interactions in climate change governance. 2) The analytical argument that polycentric governance theory provides a new way to explain the processes that shape the climate change governance landscape. Instead of the UNFCCC as the core and starting point of analysis, new understandings of, for example, authority, power and legitimacy can be developed. A polycentric governance approach provides a different way to explain climate change governance processes. 3) The prescriptive argument that there is a need to reform climate change governance to be more effective. This reform would also imply a different framing of what climate change governance should look like. For example, multiple initiatives at different scales are seen as learning opportunities that should be stimulated, and not necessarily as a problem of fragmentation and inefficiency. A polycentric governance approach provides normative prescriptions on how climate change governance should look.
  • 2. What surprised you most about the origins and subsequent development of polycentric thinking?
    Depending on your background and interest, some aspects of polycentric governance may be surprising for you. For example, is it surprising that the concept of polycentric governance originated from empirical studies in the US way back in the 1960s? Another surprise could be that it is hard to define what exactly polycentric governance is. For this reason, the textbook defines polycentric governance through 5 propositions, to indicate important aspects and the discussions that are relevant within polycentric governance studies.
  • 3. Which 5 propositions best define polycentric governance and what do they imply for studying climate change governance?
    In §1.3.2 of the book chapter five propositions are used to define and study polycentric governance
  • Proposition 1
    Local Action: Governance initiatives are likely to emerge at a local level through processes of self-organisation. This proposition implies an actor-centred focus to describe climate change governance. Analytically it implies the need for a critical view on collective actions, and an open-mind to the role of state and non-state actors. Normatively it implies the need to encourage self-organisation processes within communities. For example, the normative position of promoting co-benefits of mitigation (such as the way in which promoting cycling over car use not only addresses greenhouse gas emissions but also improves public health).
  • Proposition 2
    Mutual Adjustment: Constituent units are likely to spontaneously develop collaborations with one another, producing more trusting interrelationships. This proposition implies that constituent units and their interconnections should be described. Analytically it implies that explanations of climate change governance process should explore the boundaries and linkages between units and their voluntary or coerced relation. Normatively it implies that learning capacities between units should be promoted.
  • Proposition 3
    Experimentation: The willingness and capacity to experiment is likely to facilitate governance innovation and learning about what works. This proposition implies a focus on diverse policy approaches and experiments to describe climate change governance. Analytically it implies the need for a critical understanding to how experimentation works to explain the role of experimentation and learning in climate change governance. Normatively it implies that decentralised experimentation should be encouraged.
  • Proposition 4
    The Importance of Trust: Trust is likely to build up more quickly when units are able to self-organise, thus increasing collective ambitions. This proposition implies that wider relationships and trust building processes are critical in describing climate change governance. Analytically it implies a critical need to understand trust building and to explain how trust varies. Normatively it implies that trust should be encouraged through collaboration and experimentation.
  • Proposition 5
    Overarching Rules: Local initiatives are likely to work best when they are bound by a set of overarching rules that enshrine the goals to be achieved and/or allow conflicts to be resolved. This proposition implies that descriptions of climate change governance include formal and informal rules. Analytically it implies the need for a critical understanding of these rules to explain who is involved in rule-setting and what the role is of these rules in the climate change governance setting. Normatively it implies that appropriate rules should be established



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