Ph.D Dissertation Papers

State Steering in Polycentric Governance Systems: Climate Policy Integration in Ontario and California's Transportation Sectors 

By Colleen Kaiser

The post-Kyoto era of climate governance has witnessed a dramatic increase in the number and diversity of actors and organizations, resulting in a complex institutional regime that displays the essential features of polycentric governance (Keohane and Victor 2011; Abbott 2012; 2018). The complexity of polycentric climate governance systems makes them hard to describe and compare. That being said, they are also everywhere (Harford 2013). As our current reality, polycentric climate governance systems require research attention even though their ‘messy’ nature presents unique research challenges. This research furthers work by Elinor Ostrom and others on operationalizing polycentric climate governance, given the complexity and ‘institutional void’ associated with polycentric governance systems. In particular, this research argues that the state is a unique actor within polycentric climate governance systems, and serves a critical and exclusive function in crafting and enforcing overarching rules within which all other actors operate. A key focus in this research is climate policy integration and its drivers that are comparatively analyzed for the climate-transport governance regimes of the two case studies underpinning this research: Ontario, Canada and California, U.S.A. Additionally, the research introduces a novel approach for evaluating the degree of polycentricity in each case’s climate governance system. Finally, the research evaluates the degree to which overarching rules enhance these systems in relation to varying contexts. Ultimately, a polycentric approach to climate change governance is found to be a best fit strategy for pursuing low-carbon transitions. This is especially the case in contexts characterized by separation of powers type governance system, where there are especially high degrees of regulatory capacity, and a consistent and robust social consensus supporting climate change action. In particular, the ability of these systems to maintain a lowcarbon governance orientation in the face of technological and political disruption, and also promote innovation, coalition and capacity building, makes them well-suited to managing the challenges inherent to steering low-carbon transitions. Governments should recognize the complexity of current climate change governance systems, understand their unique roles within these systems, and work purposefully to develop and implement overarching rules to leverage the benefits of these systems and mitigate their inefficiencies.