Reflections on the uptake of climate change policies by local governments: facing the challenges of mitigation and adaptation

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Background: There is a growing body of literature that examines the role of local governments in addressing climate change vis-a-vis mitigation and adaptation. Although it appears that climate change mitigation strategies - in particular those addressing energy issues - are being adopted by a large majority of local governments, this cannot be said of climate change adaptation. This paper explores the uptake of these two types of climate change policy by local governments in the Netherlands. The central research question is: What lessons can be drawn from comparing the adoption and implementation of local climate change mitigation policies with local climate change adaptation policies in the Netherlands? Our paper contributes to the body of literature on climate change policy implementation, drawing particular attention to the ongoing debate on the institutional dimension of the adaptation-mitigation dichotomy.

Methods: A comparative case study research design was chosen to study the adoption and implementation of climate change (i) mitigation and (ii) adaptation policies by local governments in the Netherlands during the period 1998 to 2013. The data involved 89 expert interviews and secondary data sources from four research projects conducted by the present authors on local climate change policy implementation.

Results: Most Dutch municipalities have local climate change policies that address mitigation. Local governments pay relatively little attention to adaptation. The difference is mostly due to the take-up of central government-led policy support schemes aimed at the vertical integration of climate change mitigation policies. Moreover, mitigation is typically framed as an 'energy' issue whereas adaptation is framed as a 'water' issue. This has far-reaching consequences. Climate change adaptation has never been prioritized, nor has it been supported with properly funded policy support schemes.

Conclusions: In the realm of local climate change policies, adaptation is still considered an 'add-on' to climate change mitigation policy. Moreover, adoption and implementation of both adaptation and mitigation suffers from institutional inertia in Dutch local policy practice
Original languageEnglish
Article number8
Number of pages16
JournalEnergy, sustainability and society
Publication statusPublished - 24 Apr 2014


  • IR-90528
  • METIS-303389


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