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Overcoming weak governance will take decades with implications for climate adaptation

Weak governance is one of the key obstacles for sustainable development, a study of an international research team finds

Even under the most optimistic development scenarios, it will take until around 2050 to overcome weak governance globally, the study finds. Under pessimistic scenarios characterised by regional rivalry, more than three billion people would still be living in countries with weak governance conditions well beyond mid-century.

“Governance is a key ingredient of a country’s capacity to adapt to climate change,” explained Marina Andrijevic from Climate Analytics and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU), lead author of the study. “For example, good governance is important for long-term planning, guidelines and regulations, and can be crucial for governments in successfully leveraging investments in adaptation projects. Conversely, a lack of transparency, high corruption or political instability could deprive a government of that much-needed finance.”

The numerous interventions a government can make to adapt to climate change - such as prioritising policies, mobilising resources, coordinating efforts and decision making - are processes often contingent on the efficacy of institutional mechanisms. The level of corruption within a government, for instance, will impact on its ability to deal with a climate-related disaster.

The results not only have far-reaching implications for sustainable development, but they also link directly to the immediate need to adapt to the impacts of climate change, in particular in the most vulnerable countries. This new understanding of the possible pathways of governance and the resulting adaptive capacity will contribute to more realistic assessments of how the world may be able to cope with the impacts of climate change in the future.

“We tend to treat climate change adaptation as something that we can just switch on and then we’re fine. But our study shows that it is more complicated than that and that building adaptive capacity in many regions of the world will take a long time,” said Carl-Friedrich Schleussner, of Climate Analytics and HU, a co-author of the study.

On the upside, the study shows that countries characterised by very weak governance have a near-term rate of improvement of up to five times faster under the most optimistic scenarios than they do under the worst. “There is a window of opportunity to eradicate the lowest levels of governance in the near term and get the world on a pathway towards achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals,” said Jesus Crespo Cuaresma from the Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU) and International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Vienna, Austria, who also contributed to the study. “This is of paramount importance also to enable those nations, many of which are located in climate vulnerable regions, to adapt to climate change.”

The study quantifies - for the first time - different governance pathways at the national level over the 21th century, using scenarios of socio-economic development (Shared Socio-economic Pathways) widely used in climate change research. The authors have relied on the World Governance Indicators provided by the World Bank, which take into account multiple dimensions of governance such as political stability, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, rule of law and control of corruption.


Governance in socioeconomic pathways and its role for future adaptive capacity

Link to Study

About Climate Analytics

Climate Analytics is a non-profit institute leading on climate science and policy in relation to the 1.5°C limit in the Paris Agreement.

Link to Climate Analytics

Contacts at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Marina Andrijevic
Phone: +49 176 20411478 (Germany)

Carl Schleussner
Phone: +49 177 5141559 (Germany)