The Continuing Case for a Polycentric Approach for Coping with Climate Change
Originally published in Sustainability
Elinor Ostrom argued that effectively coping with manmade climate change requires a polycentric approach. Although we agree with Ostrom’s assessment, her arguments regarding the advantages of polycentricity could be taken further. In this paper, we supplement Ostrom’s work by fleshing out the reasons of how and why a polycentric approach is more conducive to coping with climate change than national governments that attempt to centrally direct climate change policies. We argue that there are at least six advantages that polycentric systems have for coping with climate change: competition among decision makers, cooperation among decision makers, perceptions of legitimacy that lead to coproduction, mutual learning through experimentation, institutional resilience/robustness, and emergent outcomes that are socially desirable but not centrally planned. The combination of these six factors gives polycentric governance systems distinct advantages over more top-down ones, especially in terms of epistemics and incentive compatibility. Scholars and policymakers who are concerned about the implications of climate change should appreciate the many diverse and nuanced advantages of a polycentric approach for coping with climate change.