, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 200–209 | Cite as

Path Dependencies and Path Change in Complex Fields of Action: Climate Adaptation Policies in Germany in the Realm of Flood Risk Management

  • Heiko Garrelts
  • Hellmuth Lange


The spatial and temporal repercussions of climate change are of an extremely complex nature. Coping with climate change is, first and foremost, a challenge to political decision making and, considering the long-term effects of the climate system, to planning. However, there have never been more doubts that the political-administrative system is able to meet these requirements. Although much evidence has been put forward in favor of such skepticism, sometimes, it is dangerous to overstate the existing limits. Drawing on two case studies in the area of flood risk management in Germany, the article illustrates how and why significant path change came about. In both cases, the state proved to still being a pivotal actor, due to a number of functions that cannot be assumed by other actors. However, other actor groups—such as actors from science, the media, NGOs, and citizen groups—play a significant role as well by providing relevant expertise and influencing the public discourse, thus mobilizing significant political pressure.


Climate adaptation Flood risk management Northwest Germany Path change Political steering Policy analysis 



The authors wish to thank the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research for funding the mentioned research projects and the two referees for their helpful comments.


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Research Center for Sustainability StudiesUniversity BremenBremenGermany

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