Anticipatory governance of climate change

Updated: Jul 30

The traditional planning model is not able to address the threat that is climate change. Can Anticipatory governance make a difference?

Adaptation to climate change necessitates a new paradigm that considers a range of possible future climate conditions and accompanying changes in human and ecological systems. As a result, anticipatory governance has arisen as a technique for scenario planning, nanotechnology governance, and military adaptive capability in the literature.

Ray Quay provides a more appropriate basis for planning climate change adaptation in his study "Anticipatory Governance: A Tool for Climate Change Adaptation." According to Ray Quay's study of the literature and practice, anticipatory governance involves three main steps: anticipation and futures analysis, development of flexible adaptation mechanisms, and monitoring and action.

Anticipation and Futures Analysis

Anticipatory governance acknowledges that some aspects of the future are unknown and that every prognosis or projection is just one of many possible outcomes. Aggregated averages, risk assessment, sensitivity analysis of elements or decisions driving the scenarios, identification of undesirable possibilities or worst-case scenarios, and assessment of common and dissimilar outcomes among the scenarios are frequent practices in future analysis. As a result, anticipatory governance relies on the creation and examination of a variety of prospective scenarios rather than a single projection or choice.

Creation of Flexible Adaptation Strategies

Actions to adjust to one or more of the probable futures are then established based on the study of the defined range of predicted futures. Some strategies include actions that maintain future options, contingency plans to respond to particular situations, no-regrets strategies (near-term actions that can be adapted over time to address several possible scenarios) or worst-case strategies (actions that address the worst outcomes, thus all scenarios), and robust actions (actions that work well enough across many possible futures based on accepted risk levels).

Monitoring and Action

It has been proposed that regular monitoring and responsiveness to change is required for successful adaptation. Given the moderate pace of climate change over the next 100 years, adaptation decisions and activities will be stretched out over a lengthy period of time. Change indicators should be examined on a regular basis, and decisions about implementing predicted adaptation measures should be based on current developments.

Climate Change and Anticipatory Governance: Case Study of New York

Climate adaptation initiatives in New York City (NYC) began in 2004 with the formation of a Climate Change Task Force to investigate the potential consequences of climate change on the city's water infrastructure. The 2008 Assessment and Action Plan is the product of this, and it includes general adaptation methods to make NYC's water, wastewater, and flood control systems more adaptable to climate change.

The NPCC was tasked with advising the mayor and the NYC Climate Change Adaptation Task Force (NYCCATF) on the potential implications of climate change on NYC, thanks to a $350,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.

The development of New York's climate change adaptation plan is divided into four stages: 1) assess climate change impacts, 2) identify climate change impacts on the city and establish methods to minimise these risks, 3) implement a citywide strategy plan, and 4) collaborate with vulnerable neighbourhoods to build site-specific adaptation measures. The NYCCATF is now working on the second of these phases and planning the third and fourth.

Anticipation and Futures Analysis

Temperature, precipitation, sea-level rise, and short-term extreme occurrences were the first four primary climate risk factors (CRFs) that New York looked into.

In three steps, the NPCC calculated the most likely range for each CRF in each future time slice.

First, for each of the CRFs in each of the three future time slices, the difference between the baseline prediction for each global climate model and the forecast for each emission scenario was determined. Second, all estimated changes from all models and emission scenarios were handled as a distribution of the probable changes for each CRF throughout each time period. For each of these distributions, the mean and variance were computed. Finally, for each CRF, the means and variances were utilised to create a range of interest.

The examination of New York's range of possible futures and their anticipated consequences centred on stakeholders assessing the likelihood that each CRF would reach a value in the projected range in each future time slice, as well as the danger and severity of social system and infrastructural impacts. Climate science experts assessed the probability of change within the anticipated range for each CRF for each of the three future time slices using probability ranges and terminology modelled after that used in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. Stakeholders were then asked to rate the likelihood that each sensitive social system and infrastructure will be impacted as a result of a CRF change, as well as the extent of that impact. This information was utilised to construct a matrix for each social system and infrastructure.

Flexible Adaptation Strategies

The NPCC believes that even CRF levels in the middle of the anticipated ranges may be enough to overwhelm many organisations. As a result, it is developing a risk-based, cost-benefit approach for evaluating initial near-term adaptation options. The decision framework is built around a strategy called flexible adaptation pathways, which breaks down adaptation methods and decisions into small incremental steps that can be implemented over time or abandoned at any time, minimising wasted assets.

To aid in this effort, the city will hold neighborhood-based workshops to deliver knowledge about climate change vulnerabilities and adaptation techniques in the forty most susceptible communities throughout the city.


The complexity, ambiguity, and long-term planning horizon associated with climate change make it impossible for the typical predict-and-plan strategy to produce appropriate decisions concerning the enormous social and capital investments that will be necessary for adaptation. Social institutions must accept innovative methodologies that examine uncertainty and provide strategic guidance for current and future decisions in order to be effective.


Quay, R. (2010). Anticipatory Governance. Journal of the American Planning Association, 76(4), 496–511.

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