The anticipatory governance of uncertain climate futures in the world’s vulnerable regions

In times of accelerating earth system transformations and their potentially disruptive societal consequences, imagining and governing the future is now a core challenge for sustainability research and practice. Across the globe, a variety of anticipatory processes are proliferating in the climate and sustainability realm to support decision-making. These include more formal foresight processes such as model-based scenarios, participatory scenarios, and visioning and back-casting processes. In addition, many approaches exist which are not typically considered under the foresight umbrella, but include a component of future-oriented thinking.

The growing focus on anticipation in sustainability governance points to an important research agenda: to scrutinize diverse conceptions of the future embedded in processes of anticipation, and how these shape present-day policy choices and trajectories. In my PhD research, I examine the core characteristics, functioning and impacts of anticipatory climate governance processes in diverse climate vulnerable contexts of the Global South. These include regions that are most sensitive and vulnerable to climate change, yet are having low levels of adaptive capacities.

The core of this research is an analytical framework on anticipatory climate governance, developed though a literature review on anticipation and anticipatory governance on social science and interdisciplinary sustainability sciences. Four approaches to anticipatory climate governance discernible in these literatures are identified, which differ with regard to their: (a) assumptions regarding the knowability and manageability of the future; (b) implications for steering (or governance) actions in the present; and (a) ultimate goal of anticipating and engaging with the future. When mapping an array of methods and tools of anticipation onto these four approaches, the research finds that these methods and tools are often overlapping with more than one approach, even as they serve quite distinct ends.

The thesis is structured in four chapters. The first chapter is the literature review on anticipatory governance and anticipation. The second chapter is the first empirical application of the framework onto anticipatory governance processes in West Africa. The third chapter examines the ways in which foresight methods are configurated with the governance processes they engage with. And the fourth chapter is a cross-regional comparison of the characteristics of anticipatory governance processes in four climate vulnerable regions: Central America, Southeast Asia, South Asia and West Africa. Once finalized, the thesis aims to provide an empirical contribution to the employment of diverse anticipatory governance processes across various global contexts, and to the further conceptualization of anticipatory climate governance.  

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