The diffusion of climate change adaptation policy

Jonas J. Schoenefeld, Kai Schulze, Nils Bruch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)
14 Downloads (Pure)


Adapting to some level of climate change has become unavoidable. However, there is surprisingly limited systematic knowledge about whether and how adaptation policies have diffused and could diffuse in the future. Most existing adaptation studies do not explicitly examine policy diffusion, which is a form of interdependent policy-making among jurisdictions at the same or across different levels of governance. To address this gap, we offer a new interpretation and assessment of the extensive adaptation policy literature through a policy diffusion perspective; we pay specific attention to diffusion drivers and barriers, motivations, mechanisms, outputs, and outcomes. We assess the extent to which four motivations and related mechanisms of policy diffusion—interests (linked with learning and competition), rights and duties (tied to coercion), ideology, and recognition (both connected with emulation)—are conceptually and empirically associated with adaptation. We also engage with adaptation policy characteristics, contextual conditions (e.g., problem severity) and different channels of adaptation policy diffusion (e.g., transnational networks). We demonstrate that adaptation policy diffusion can be associated with different mechanisms, yet many of them remain remarkably understudied. So are the effects of adaptation policy diffusion in terms of changes in vulnerability and resilience. We thus identify manifold avenues for future research, and provide insights for practitioners who may hope to leverage diffusion mechanisms to enhance their adaptation efforts.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere775
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change
Issue number3
Early online date16 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - May 2022


  • climate change adaptation
  • policy diffusion
  • policy innovation
  • policy learning
  • public policy

Cite this