Governing the future? The potential of adaptive delta management to contribute to governance capabilities for dealing with the wicked problem of climate change adaptation

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

Due to the long term character of the policy issue, the associated uncertainties and the large variety of affected stakeholders, adapting densely populated delta areas to the impacts of climate change is an important governance challenge and a wicked problem. In this paper, we analyse adaptive delta management (ADM), a policy development approach that relies on adaptation tipping points and adaptation pathways, used by the Dutch Delta Programme to climate proof the Dutch delta. ADM operationalizes adaptive management ideas for the long term governance of river deltas. Taking a governance perspective, we assess the potential of ADM to contribute to each of the five governance capabilities required to deal with wicked problems: reflexivity, responsiveness, resilience, revitalization and rescaling. We conclude that ADM can contribute substantially to the governance capabilities of resilience (through robustness and flexibility) and rescaling (through addressing the time scale mismatch). ADM has the potential to contribute to the governance capabilities of reflexivity and responsiveness, but also has some characteristics that could result in non-reflexivity and non-responsiveness. Enabling ADM as a policy development approach for long term issues requires a long term commitment to iterative policy revision, flexibility and learning in the broader governance system.

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