Anticipatory governance: A tool for climate change adaptation

Ray Quay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

225 Scopus citations


Problem: Human and natural systems will probably have to adapt to climate change impacts, but this cannot be planned for using the traditional approach based on predictions because of the subject's great complexity, its planning horizon more than 50 years away, and uncertainty about the future climate and how effectively CO2 emissions will be reduced. Purpose: This article proposes a more appropriate basis for planning climate change adaptation. Anticipatory governance is a flexible decision framework that uses a wide range of possible futures to prepare for change and to guide current decisions toward maximizing future alternatives or minimizing future threats. Rather than trying to tame or ignore uncertainty, this approach explores uncertainty and its implications for current and future decision making. Methods: I review and summarize the literature on anticipatory governance and provide three case studies to demonstrate its application to climate change planning. Results and conclusions: Denver Water, New York City, and the City of Phoenix are all using scenarios to anticipate the range of global climate changes that may impact their communities and to develop adaptation strategies to address these impacts. Each is developing a decision framework for implementing adaptation strategies incrementally based on climate monitoring. An incremental approach minimizes the resources that must be allocated to address these risks and has allowed these cities to plan in spite of the high uncertainty associated with climate change science and social change. Takeaway for practice: The complexity, uncertainty, and distant planning horizon associated with climate change cannot be managed sufficiently for the traditional predict-and-plan approach to yield good decisions about the significant social and capital investments likely to be required for adaptation. To be successful, social institutions must embrace new methods that explore uncertainty and that provide strategic guidance for current and future decisions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)496-511
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of the American Planning Association
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 2010


  • adaptation
  • anticipatory governance
  • resiliency
  • sustainability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Urban Studies


Dive into the research topics of 'Anticipatory governance: A tool for climate change adaptation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this