Skip to main content

Public Choice barriers to efficient climate adaptation – theoretical insights and lessons learned from German flood disasters


In this paper, we take a Public Choice perspective to identify and categorise barriers to efficient public climate adaptation. Specifically, we distinguish three dimensions of public adaptation: extent, structure (form and timing) and organisation (coordination across territorial authorities and policy fields). Within each of these dimensions, we investigate how the self-interest of voters, pressure groups, bureaucrats and politicians may bias adaptation decisions. Thus, we indicate specific barriers to efficient public adaptation. Based on this framework, we illustrate how Germany's response to major flood disasters reflects the incentive structure of concerned stakeholders and their political interaction. The ad hoc character of some public adaptation measures implies a clear bias from the efficient benchmark. In conclusion, we argue that the propositions of Public Choice theory shed some light on how empirical public adaptation processes unfold.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Public Choice barriers to efficient climate adaptation – theoretical insights and lessons learned from German flood disasters
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Public Choice barriers to efficient climate adaptation – theoretical insights and lessons learned from German flood disasters
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Public Choice barriers to efficient climate adaptation – theoretical insights and lessons learned from German flood disasters
      Available formats
Corresponding author
Hide All
Alesina, A. and Drazen, A. (1991), ‘Why are Stabilizations Delayed?’, American Economic Review, 81: 11701188.
Bechtel, M. and Hainmueller, J. (2011), ‘How Lasting is Voter Gratitude? An Analysis of the Short- and Long-Term Electoral Returns to Beneficial Policy’, American Journal of Political Science, 55 (4): 852868.
Beck, S., Kuhlicke, C., and Görg, C. (2009), Climate Policy Integration, Coherence, and Governance in Germany. PEER Climate Change Initiative - Project 2, Leipzig: Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ.
Beck, S., Bovet, J., Baasch, S., Reiß, P., and Görg, C. (2011), Synergien und Konflikte von Strategien und Maßnahmen zur Anpassung an den Klimawandel, Dessau: Umweltbundesamt.
Biesbroek, G. R., Klostermann, J., Termeer, C., and Kabat, P. (2013), ‘On the Nature of Barriers to Climate Change Adaptation’, Regional Environmental Change, 13 (5): 11191129.
Blankart, C. B. (2011), Öffentliche Finanzen in Der Demokratie: Eine Einführung in Die Finanzwissenschaft, München: Vahlen.
BMI (2013), Bericht zur Flutkatastrophe 2013. Katastrophenhilfe, Entschädigung, Wiederaufbau, Berlin: Bundesministerium des Innern (BMI).
Browne, M. and Hoyt, R. (2000), ‘The Demand for Flood Insurance: Empirical Evidence’, Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 20 (3): 291306.
Bryant, C. R., Smit, B., Brklacich, M., Johnston, T. R., Smithers, J., Chjotti, Q., and Singh, B. (2000), ‘Adaptation in Canadian Agriculture to Climatic Variability and Change’, Climatic Change, 45 (1): 181201.
Bundestag (1997), Unterrichtung durch die Bundesregierung - Abschlussbericht zur Hochwasserkatastrophe an der Oder, Drucksache 13/9571, Berlin: Deutscher Bundestag.
Citlak, B. and Wagner, G. (2001), ‘Hochwasser: Unkalkulierbare Ereignisse und Unvermeidbare Folgen? Denkanstösse für den ökonomischen Umgang mit Elementarschäden’, in Mager, H. -C., Schäfer, H. and Schrüfer, K. (eds.), Private Versicherung und Soziale Sicherung - Festschrift zum 60. Geburtstag von Roland Eisen, Marburg: Metropolis, pp. 97111.
Congleton, R. D. (2006), ‘The Story of Katrina: New Orleans and the Political Economy of Catastrophy’, Public Choice, 127: 530.
Corfee-Morlot, J., Cochran, I., Hallegatte, S., and Teasdale, P.-J. (2011), ‘Multilevel Risk Governance and Urban Adaptation Policy’, Climatic Change, 104: 169197.
Dari-Mattiacci, G. and Faure, M. G. (2015), ‘The Economics of Disaster Relief’, Law & Policy, 37 (3): 180208.
Deutsche Rück (2004), Sturmdokumentation Deutschland 1997–2004, Düsseldorf: Deutsche Rück.
Deutsche Rück (2006), Sturmdokumentation Deutschland 2006, Düsseldorf: Deutsche Rück.
Deutsche Rück (2010), Sturmdokumentation Deutschland 2010, Düsseldorf: Deutsche Rück.
DKKV (2003), Hochwasservorsorge in Deutschland - Lernen aus der Katastrophe 2002 im Elbegebiet, Bonn: Deutsches Komitee für Katastrophenvorsorge e. V. (DKKV).
DKKV (2013), Das Hochwasser im Juni 2013, Bonn: Deutsches Komitee für Katastrophenvorsorge e. V. (DKKV).
Downs, A. (1957), An Economic Theory of Democracy, New York: Harper.
Drazen, A. and Easterly, W. (2001), ‘Do crises induce reform? Simple Empirical Tests of Conventional Wisdom’, Economics and Politics, 13 (2): 129157.
Edelman, M. (1964), The Symbolic Uses of Politics, Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Eisenack, K. and Stecker, R. (2012), ‘A Framework for Analyzing Climate Change Adaptations as Actions’, Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, 17 (3): 243260.
Eisensee, T. and Strömberg, D. (2007), ‘News Droughts, News Floods, and U.S. Disaster Relief’, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 122 (2): 693728.
Falaleeva, M., O'Mahony, C., Gray, S., Desmond, M., Gault, J., and Cummins, V. (2011), ‘Towards Climate Adaptation and Coastal Governance in Ireland: Integrated Architecture for Effective Management?’, Marine Policy, 35: 784793.
Fidrmuc, J. and Tichit, A. (2013), ‘How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Crisis’, Economic Systems, 37: 542554.
Füssel, H.-M. (2007), ‘Adaptation Planning for Climate Change: Concepts, Assessment Approaches and Key Lessons’, Sustainability Science, 2 (2): 265275.
Füssel, H.-M. and Klein, R. J. T. (2004), Conceptual Frameworks of Adaptation to Climate Change and Their Applicability to Human Health, Potsdam: Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).
Gill, S. E., Handley, J. F., Ennos, A. R., and Pauleit, S. (2007), ‘Adapting Cities for Climate Change: The Role of the Green Infrastructure’, Built Environment, 33 (1): 115133.
Gupta, J., Termeer, C. J. A. M., Klostermann, J., Meijerink, S., van den Brink, M., KJong, P., Nooteboom, S., and Bergsma, E. (2010), ‘The Adaptive Capacity Wheel: A Method to Assess the Inherent Characteristics of Institutions to Enable the Adaptive Capacity of Society’, Environmental Science and Policy, 13: 459471.
Heuson, C., Gawel, E., Gebhardt, O., Hansjürgens, B., Lehmann, P., Meyer, V., and Schwarze, R. (2012), Fundamental Questions on the Economics of Climate Adaptation - Outlines of a New Research Programme, Leipzig: Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ.
Inman, R. P. and Rubinfeld, D. L. (1997), ‘The Political Economy of Fiscal Federalism’, in Mueller, D. C. (ed.), Perspectives on Public Choice: A Handbook, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 73105.
Jahberg, H. (2014), ‘Streit um Zwangspolicen gegen Naturkatastrophen’, [online], Available at: (accessed 14/07/2016).
Klein, R. J. T., Midgley, G. F., Preston, B. L., Alam, M., Berkhout, F., Dow, K., and Shaw, M. R. (2014), ‘Adaptation Opportunities, Constraints, and Limits’, in Field, C. B., Barros, V. R., Dokken, D. J., Mach, K. J., Mastrandrea, M. D., Bilir, T. E., Chatterjee, M., Ebi, K. L., Estrada, Y. O., Genova, R. C., Girma, B., Kissel, E. S., Levy, A. N., MacCracken, S., Mastrandrea, P. R., and White, L. L. (eds.), Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge, UK and New York, USA: Cambridge University Press, pp. 899943.
Kreibich, H., Thieken, A. H., Petrow, T., Müller, M., and Merz, B. (2005), ‘Flood Loss Reduction of Private Households Due to Building Precautionary Measures - Lessons Learned from the Elbe Flood in August 2002’, Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences, 5: 117126.
Krueger, A. O. (1974), ‘The Political Economy of the Rent-Seeking Society’, American Economic Review, 64 (3): 291303.
Kuhlicke, C. and Steinführer, A. (2007), ‘Wider die Fixiertheit im Denken - Risikodialoge über Naturgefahren’, GAIA, 15 (4): 265274.
Kunreuther, H. and Pauly, M. (2004), ‘Neglecting Disaster: Why Don't People Insure Against Large Losses?’, Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 28 (1): 521.
Lebel, L., Manuta, J. B., and Garden, P. (2011), ‘Institutional Traps and Vulnerability to Changes in Climate and Flood Regimes in Thailand’, Regional Environmental Change, 11 (1): 4558.
Lehmann, P., Brenck, M., Gebhardt, O., Schaller, S., and Süßbauer, E. (2015), ‘Barriers and Opportunities for Urban Adaptation Planning: Analytical Framework and Evidence from Cities in Latin America and Germany’, Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, 20 (1): 7597.
McCarthy, J. J., Canziani, O. F., Leary, N. A., Dokken, D. J., and White, K. S. (2001), Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge, UK, and New York, USA: Cambridge University Press.
Measham, T., Preston, B. L., Smith, T. F., Brooke, C., Gorddard, R., Withycombe, G., and Morrison, C. (2011), ‘Adapting to Climate Change Through Local Municipal Planning: Barriers and Challenges’, Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, 16 (8): 889909.
Meyer, V., Kuhlicke, C., Schwarze, R., Scholz, M., Haase, D., and Luther, J. (2013), 100% Flood Protection is Not Possible - We Need Four Pillars of Sustainable Flood Mitigation and Adaptation Measures, Available at:
Meyer, V., Priest, S., and Kuhlicke, C. (2012), ‘Economic Evaluation of Structural and Non-Structural Flood Risk Management Measures: Examples from the Mulde River’, Natural Hazards, 62 (2): 301324.
Michaelowa, A. (2001), Mitigation Versus Adaptation: The Political Economy of Competition Between Climate Policy Strategies and the Consequences for Developing Countries, Hamburg: Hamburgisches Welt-Wirtschafts-Archiv (HWWA).
Michaelowa, A. and Michaelowa, K. (2011), ‘Coding Error or Statistical Embellishment? The Political Economy of Reporting Climate Aid’, World Development, 39 (11): 20102020.
Mickwitz, P., Aix, F., Beck, S., Carss, D., Ferrand, N., Görg, C., Jensen, A., Kivimaa, P., Kuhlicke, C., Kuindersma, W., Mánez, M., Melanen, M., Monni, S., Pedersen, A. B., Reinert, H., and van Bommel, S. (2009), Climate Policy Integration, Coherence and Governance, Helsinki: Partnership for European Environmental Research (PEER).
Moser, S. C. and Ekstrom, J. A. (2010), ‘A Framework to Diagnose Barriers to Climate Change Adaptation’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107 (51): 2202622031.
Mueller, D. C. (2003), Public Choice III, 3rd ed., Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Musgrave, R. (1959), The Theory of Public Finance, New York: McGraw Hill.
Næss, L. O., Bang, G., Eriksen, S., and Vevatne, J. (2005), ‘Institutional Adaptation to Climate Change: Flood Responses at the Municipal Level in Norway’, Global Environmental Change, 15: 125138.
Niskanen, W. A. (1971), Bureaucracy and Representative Government, Atherton: Aldine Transaction.
Oates, W. E. (1972), Fiscal Federalism, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Oberlack, C. (2016), ‘Diagnosing Institutional Barriers and Opportunities for Adaptation to Climate Change’, Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change: DOI 10.1007/s11027-015-9699-z.
Olson, M. (1969), ‘The Principle of “Fiscal Equivalence”: The Division of Responsibilities among Different Levels of Government’, American Economic Review, 59: 479487.
Olson, M. (1971), The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Osberghaus, D. (2015), ‘The Determinants of Private Flood Mitigation Measures In Germany - Evidence from a Nationwide Survey’, Ecological Economics, 110: 3650.
Osberghaus, D. and Mennel, T. (2014), ‘Hochwasservorsorge zwischen Staatshilfen und privater Versicherung’, Wirtschaftsdienst, 94 (8): 583587.
Osberghaus, D., Dannenberg, A., Mennel, T., and Sturm, B. (2010), ‘The Role of the Government in Adaptation to Climate Change’, Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 28: 834850.
Peltzman, S. (1976), ‘Toward a More General Theory of Regulation’, Journal of Law and Economics, 19 (2): 211240.
Penning-Rowsell, E., Johnson, C., and Tunstall, S. (2006), ‘‘Signals’ from Pre-Crisis Discourse: Lessons from UK Flooding for Global Environmental Policy Change?’, Global Environmental Change, 16: 323339.
Porrini, D. and Schwarze, R. (2014), ‘Insurance Models and European Climate Change Policies: An Assessment’, European Journal of Law and Economics, 38: 728.
Raschky, P. and Weck-Hannemann, H. (2007), ‘Charity Hazard - A Real Hazard in Natural Disaster Insurance?’, Environmental Hazards, 7 (4): 321329.
Raschky, P., Schwarze, R., Schwindt, M., and Zahn, F. (2013), ‘Uncertainty of Governmental Relief and the Crowding Out of Flood Insurance’, Environmental and Resource Economics, 54 (2): 179200.
Reese, M. (2011), ‘Das neue Recht des Hochwasserschutzes vor den Herausforderungen des Klimawandels’, Natur und Recht, 33: 1928.
Rogoff, K. (1990), ‘Equilibrium Political Budget Cycles’, American Economic Review, 80 (1): 2136.
Runhaar, H., Mees, H., Wardekker, A., van der Sluijs, J., and Driessen, P. P. J. (2012), ‘Adaptation to climate change-related risks in Dutch urban areas: stimuli and barriers’, Regional Environmental Change, 12: 777790.
SäSK (2011), Der Wiederaufbau im Freistaat Sachsen nach dem Hochwasser im Juni 2013, Dresden: Sächsische Staatskanzlei (SäSK).
Schanze, J., Penning-Rowsell, E., Nachtnebel, H.-P., Meyer, V., Werritty, A., Harries, T., Holzmann, H., Jessel, B., Koeniger, P., Kuhlicke, C., Neuhold, C., Olfert, A., Parker, D., and Schildt, A. (2008), Systematisation, Evaluation and Context Conditions of Structural and Non-Structural Measures for Flood Risk Reduction. FLOOD-ERA Joint Report, London, UK: ERA-NET CRUE.
Schmidt, H.-J. (2013), ‘Ist Tschechiens Egoismus schuld an der Elbeflut?’, [online], Available at: (accessed 14/07/2016).
Schwarze, R. and Wagner, G. (2007), ‘The Political Economy of Natural Desaster Insurance: Lessons from the Failure of a Proposed Compulsary Insurance Scheme in Germany’, European Environment, 17 403415.
Shughart, W. F. II (2006), ‘Katrinanomics: The Politics and Economics of Desaster Relief’, Public Choice, 127: 3153.
Smit, B., Burton, I., Klein, R. J. T., and Street, R. (1999), ‘The Science of Adaptation: A Framework for Assessment’, Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, 4 (3): 199213.
SMUL (2014a), Antwort auf die Kleine Anfrage “Finanzielle Ausgaben und Stand der realisierten Deichrückverlegungen 2002 bis 2014 - Vorbeugender Hochwasserschutz in Sachsen” (Drs. 5/14565), Dresden: Sächsisches Ministerium für Umwelt und Landwirtschaft (SMUL).
SMUL (2014b), Medieninformation. Sachsen ist bei Hochwasserschutz auf dem richtigen Weg, Dresden: Sächsisches Staatsministerium für Umwelt und Landwirtschaft (SMUL).
Sobel, R. and Leeson, P. (2006), ‘Government's Response to Hurricane Katrina: A Public Choice Analysis’, Public Choice, 127 (1): 5573.
Sovacool, B. K., Linnér, B.-O., and Goodsite, M. E. (2015), ‘The Political Economy of Climate Adaptation’, Nature Climate Change, 5: 616618.
Stigler, G. J. (1971), ‘The Theory of Economic Regulation’, Bell Journal of Economics, 2 (1): 321.
Tiebout, C. M. (1956), ‘A Pure Theory of Local Expenditures’, Journal of Political Economy, 64: 416424.
UBA (2011), Hochwasser. Verstehen, Erkennen, Handeln!, Dessau-Roßlau: Umweltbundesamt (UBA).
UNDP/UNEP (2011), Mainstreaming Climate Change Adaptation into Development Planning: A Guide for Practitioners, Nairobi: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)/United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Vaubel, R. (1994), ‘The Political Economy of Centralization and the European Union’, Public Choice, 81: 151190.
Wasserhaushaltsgesetz (WHG) - Federal Water Act (2009), [online], Available at: (accessed 14/07/2016).
Watkiss, P., Hunt, A., Blyth, W., and Dyszynski, J. (2015), ‘The Use of New Economic Decision Support Tools for Adaptation Assessment: A Review of Methods and Applications, Towards Guidance on Applicability’, Climatic Change, 132 (3): 401416.
Wyckoff, P. G. (1990), ‘The Simple Analytics of Slack-Maximizing Bureaucracy’, Public Choice, 67 (1): 3547.
Yohe, G. W. (2001), ‘Mitigative Capacity - The Mirrow Image of Adaptive Capacity on the Emissions Side’, Climatic Change, 49: 247262.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Institutional Economics
  • ISSN: 1744-1374
  • EISSN: 1744-1382
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-institutional-economics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed