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“Pioneers but not guinea pigs”: experimenting with climate change adaptation in French coastal areas

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Abstract

Uncertainty surrounding climate change has encouraged policy makers to engage in flexible and exploratory policies and forms of policy making. The article examines the potential of experimentation in devising coastal adaptation policies, taking into account its political dimensions. We analysed a multi-level experiment, funded by the French Ministry for the Environment from 2012 to 2015, where coastal municipalities volunteered to simulate the implementation of planned retreat as an adaptation strategy. Using insights from discursive institutionalism, we tracked developments throughout the experiment period. We highlight a combined process of governance experiment, allowing social innovation at local and regional scales, and a more strategic tool for the state, governing and steering local coastal policy with new instruments. We shed light on a particular policy entrepreneur (a public organization dealing with coastal management) playing at the intersection of these two forms, and in the interplay of policy scales. Although the experiment contributed to the innovation of legal and economic instruments and produced policy feedbacks in local planning and governance, learning capacities of the multi-scale architecture are still moderate to make planned retreat a reality in the near future. The conclusion considers performative and interpretive effects of policy experiments as further research questions to explore.

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Notes

  1. Following a territorial reorganization in France by the end of 2015, this region is now part of a larger regional territory including Limousin, Poitou–Charentes and Aquitaine regions.

  2. Organizationally speaking, it is composed of a technical team of 5 persons with a director and a president, who is chairman of the board. A technical group (technicians of member structures) and an advisory council (partners and stakeholders of coastal policies) are two forms of partnership involved in this functioning. Financial resources are mostly subsidies of its member structures and various grants (national and European funds, specific grants according to studies and actions that are carried out).

  3. These sites are namely the communes (French municipalities) of Lacanau, La Teste and Labenne.

  4. Two main reasons explaining why diffusion did not happen were advanced: the weakness of evaluation systems and the absence of networking at the national scale.

  5. “The coordinative discourse encompasses the wide range of policy actors engaged in the construction of policy ideas” (Schmidt 2010, p. 3).

  6. “The communicative discourse encompasses the wide range of political actors who bring the ideas developed in the context of the coordinative discourse to the public for deliberation and legitimation” (Schmidt 2010, p. 3).

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Acknowledgements

For their helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper, the authors would like to thank the anonymous reviewers as well as the participants of the INOGOV workshop held in March 2015 at the Finnish Environment Institute in Helsinki, Finland. The study has been carried out as part of the Cluster of Excellence COTE (Programme of the French National Research Agency, ANR-10-LABX-45) and funded by the Aquitaine Regional Council (PERMALA project, Grant no 201212004004).

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Correspondence to Nicolas Rocle.

Appendix: Timeline of the attended events during the planned retreat experiment

Appendix: Timeline of the attended events during the planned retreat experiment

figure a

The Public Interest Group of Aquitaine coastline participated in and served as the main link between all these events. With the exception of the two national monitoring committees, all the attended events were recorded, along with note taking, and half were fully transcribed.

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Rocle, N., Salles, D. “Pioneers but not guinea pigs”: experimenting with climate change adaptation in French coastal areas. Policy Sci 51, 231–247 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11077-017-9279-z

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