Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy



Collaborative Specialization

Environment and Sustainability


McBean, Gordon

2nd Supervisor

Shrubsole, Dan



Anthropogenic climate change is affecting, and will continue to affect, communities across Canada. From increased average temperatures and alterations of seasonal precipitation patterns, to extreme rainfall and heat events, Canadians face a 21st century environment significantly different from that of the past. With risks to people and services identified via the global scientific and social science literature, the need to adapt to climate change is pressing. Climate change adaptation includes the identification of climate impacts in order to develop interventions into systems and services so to avoid negative effects and recognize opportunities. The emerging consensus is that climate change adaptation is challenged by the complexity of the cross-sector and cross-scale nature of climate impacts and the systems and services which are vulnerable to them. Due to jurisdictional divisions and public-private divides in many climate-impacted systems, adaptation scholarship has increasingly turned to the study of governance to conceptualize and overcome challenges. To contribute to this field, this study engages in an in-depth characterization of the current governance of climate change adaptation in Canada. Using an established theoretical framework of competing governance modes, the study characterizes adaptation governance in two Canadian sites as well as identifies the preferred visions of governing processes according to expert practitioners. Through analysis of key documents, eighty-one in-depth interviews, and two expert workshops, the thesis provides a number of novel insights for Canadian and international scholarship. In the thesis it is argued that the study of adaptation governance benefits from the application of a typology of competing governance modes. Further, the study identifies that current adaptation efforts in the Canadian sites are dominated by network processes and that the concept of network failure is consistent with the observed adaptation implementation deficit. Finally, it is revealed that practitioners at different scales of government in Canada’s federal structure idealize the governance of adaptation in drastically different ways, with local respondents providing critiques of network processes and increased interest in hierarchical governance. As climate impacts are projected to worsen in the coming decades, the findings of the study offer crucial insights for intervention into the governance of climate change adaptation.