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Learning from Climate Variability: Adaptive Governance and the Pacific ENSO Applications Center

Amanda H. LynchMonash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Ronald D. BrunnerUniversity of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado

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Abstract

Adaptive governance is a pattern that began to emerge from conflicts over natural resources in the American West a few decades ago. This was a pragmatic response to the emerging evidence that effective control was dispersed among multiple authorities and interest groups, that efficiency was only one of the many goals to be reconciled in policy decision processes, and that science itself was politically contested. Climate change as a policy problem exhibits many of these same features and has similarly led to gridlock in international and national forums. But humankind is not without guidance in securing the protection of life, limb, and livelihood in the face of environmental distress, particularly with regard to the challenge of adaptation. One effective analogy can be drawn to adaptations in the face of large climate variability such as El Niño. This paper compares adaptive governance with the tradition of scientific management in the international climate change regime, and it explores an example of adaptive governance in responding to the effects of a severe El Niño event in the Pacific islands. This event illustrates some of the specific kinds of human choices that will be made by those who are concerned about climate change as a policy problem. The basic choice is not scientific management or adaptive governance but continuing with business as usual or opening the frame to a wider range of possibilities.

Corresponding author address: Amanda H. Lynch, School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, Clayton VIC 3800, Australia. Email: amanda.lynch@monash.edu

Abstract

Adaptive governance is a pattern that began to emerge from conflicts over natural resources in the American West a few decades ago. This was a pragmatic response to the emerging evidence that effective control was dispersed among multiple authorities and interest groups, that efficiency was only one of the many goals to be reconciled in policy decision processes, and that science itself was politically contested. Climate change as a policy problem exhibits many of these same features and has similarly led to gridlock in international and national forums. But humankind is not without guidance in securing the protection of life, limb, and livelihood in the face of environmental distress, particularly with regard to the challenge of adaptation. One effective analogy can be drawn to adaptations in the face of large climate variability such as El Niño. This paper compares adaptive governance with the tradition of scientific management in the international climate change regime, and it explores an example of adaptive governance in responding to the effects of a severe El Niño event in the Pacific islands. This event illustrates some of the specific kinds of human choices that will be made by those who are concerned about climate change as a policy problem. The basic choice is not scientific management or adaptive governance but continuing with business as usual or opening the frame to a wider range of possibilities.

Corresponding author address: Amanda H. Lynch, School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, Clayton VIC 3800, Australia. Email: amanda.lynch@monash.edu

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