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5.2 Organising governance of implementation across sectors and levels

Adaptation to climate change is a cross-sectoral, multi-level and multi-issue policy field that concerns all sectors of society and requires action at multiple levels, from national governments to local actors. As such, the implementation of adaptation strategies and plans requires adequate institutional set-ups and governance frameworks to ensure effective, coherent and continued implementation. Coordination and cooperation along horizontal and vertical dimensions are needed to integrate adaptation into relevant policy areas and at all scales of governance. Governance is important in all stages of the adaptation policy cycle, starting with the initial set-up of the adaptation process, but the need for both horizontal and vertical coordination increases when countries advance to the implementation and evaluation stages.

Establishing a governance framework for implementing adaptation essentially entails organising communication, cooperation and coordination between sectors and levels by putting into place appropriate structures, rules, mechanisms, arrangements and formats. It is an advantage if implementation of climate adaptation makes use of different modes of governance, combining them to varying extents in context-dependent ways. Possible approaches range within the following spectrum of governance modes:

  • Formal governance: legally based, institutionalised, permanent, top-down, "hard" (e.g., binding reporting obligations, permanent coordination bodies with legal mandate, regulatory requirements for sectoral adaptation plans);
  • Informal governance: voluntary, informal, non-hierarchical, cooperation-based, "soft" (e.g., persuasion, voluntary agreements, dialogue and exchange formats, knowledge-sharing, capacity-building offers).

Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, more formal governance approaches create more implementation pressure through binding obligations. On the other hand, informal governance processes may benefit from being less politicized and conflict-riddled, because being out of the political spotlight often allows quicker decisions and can open up creative leeway for committed actors. Combining formal and informal governance modes in flexible ways allows capitalising on the strengths of both approaches.

Successful coordination should in principle reduce implementation barriers that typically arise under conditions of poor governance, i.e. unclear responsibilities, limited cooperation among stakeholders, lack of knowledge exchange, limited institutional capacities (e.g., in terms of financial and human resources and knowhow), incoherent or conflicting legislations, and conflicting values and interests.

Principles and facilitating factors of adaptation governance

Each adaptation process is unique and various management and institutional arrangements are possible. Standardisation of governance approaches is thus neither possible nor useful, i.e. there is no one-size-fits-all approach. However, from available experiences with implementing adaptation some good practice principles and facilitating factors have emerged. They have been described in reports by the EEA (EEA report 4/2014)and in other European studies. The following success factors help to overcome implementation barriers and apply to both vertical and horizontal governance:

  • Designating permanent coordination bodies: Permanent and central bodies for steering and monitoring implementation processes should be put in place and institutionalised in the responsible public authorities at all levels, from national government to local administrations. Important responsibilities of such coordination units comprise steering the process between sector units within the authority, liaising with adaptation coordinators at other levels, formulating policy drafts, acting as contact point for adaptation toward other authorities and external institutions, communicating adaptation to stakeholders and the public, administering reporting, monitoring and evaluation procedures, etc. Inter-ministerial or inter-departmental committees, cross-sectoral working groups or task forces are often-used formats for that purpose. Institutionalised central coordination bodies are a success factor if they are combined with clearly assigned responsibilities, a robust political mandate, leadership skills, sufficient resources, and personal commitment of members.
  • Maintaining continuity of process actors: The mechanisms and formats for coordination may change in the different stages of the adaptation policy process, e.g. from formulation to implementation. However, maintaining some continuity regarding key actors throughout the steps of the adaptation cycle clearly is an advantage. As far as possible, experienced members of the adaptation core team installed at the start of the adaptation process as well as of the steering group in charge of coordinating the action plan development should thus be involved in the permanent coordination unit.
  • Making use of informal governance approaches: Legal obligations for lower-ranking levels and sectors to set up their own adaptation plans or integrate adaptation in their activities are a strong driver of horizontal and vertical implementation. Similarly, legal anchoring of mandates for coordination bodies can significantly strengthen their roles. However, institutionalised coordination mechanisms alone are rarely sufficient, and in the majority of countries adaptation policies are currently rather non-binding, ‘soft policies’. This is where voluntary, ‘soft’, cooperation-based governance modes have to step in and are capable of delivering substantial added value. It is therefore in any case beneficial to develop a culture of informal governance approaches. These include ad-hoc interactions, informal talks, information exchange, dialogue formats, capacity-building, networking, case-based meetings, or voluntary agreements.
  • Committing adaptation actors to support coordination: In order to steer and control implementation processes across administrative sectors and levels, adaptation coordinators must have a minimum amount of hands-on and reliable coordination arrangements in place. These include provisions like cyclical work plans, monitoring, reporting and evaluation procedures, and regular progress reports. If not stipulated by formal requirements, such commitments need to be based on voluntary agreements.
  • Strengthening coordination capacities at all levels: Installment of pro-active and committed coordinators in public authorities at all levels, combined with clear responsibilities and institutionalised roles, has shown to be a key success factor for implementing adaptation. These ‘change agents’ act as initiators, communicators and drivers of adaptation processes, are the main agents of vertical and horizontal coordination and act as important intermediaries between levels and sectors. Important prerequisites for adaptation coordinators allowing them to fulfill their roles as ‘caretakers’ include: a pro-active attitude, personal commitment, leadership qualities, back-up by a robust political mandate, endowment with sufficient resources (work time, staff, budget, external expertise), formal decision-making power, coordination and communication skills, sound professional expertise, and good contacts to the right policy and actor communities. Coordination capacities should thus be strengthened at all levels, including through mandatory requirements for creating a respective responsibility, public (co-)funding of staff costs, and qualification and training.
  • Transnational learning about adaptation governance: National and subnational governments have a variety of coordination mechanisms and governance models for implementing adaptation in place. Taking into account country-specific context conditions, countries can improve their coordination of adaptation further by learning about the diversity in approaches across countries and regions, and by sharing experiences and lessons learned. The Climate-ADAPT country pages support such efforts, and projects and cooperation structures in transnational regions offer fertile potentials for such exchange and learning. This includes exploration and testing of governance innovations.

Horizontal and vertical governance of adaptation share many similarities and can to a large extent build on the same success factors. However, the mainstreaming of adaptation into sectors and multi-level coordination  also face specific challenges requiring differentiated approaches to overcome them.

Climate-ADAPT database items

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