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In times of fundamental changes and shifts in institutional, political and economic structures at various scales, climate change and variability also exert a strong pressure on the resilience of social–ecological systems (IPCC, 2007). The IPCC states that African countries will be affected most by future climate change, since among other factors, widespread poverty, demographic changes, constrained institutional realities and inadequate political strategies are significantly limiting local adaptation capabilities (DFID, 2006; World Bank, 2006). In West Africa, livelihoods are highly dependent on forest ecosystem goods and services (FEGS), often in interplay with agricultural and livestock production systems. To reduce the growing risk of vulnerability under climate change, technical and societal adaptation is needed. Revised governance structures may enable adaptation at multiple levels and layers.
This chapter examines the opportunities and barriers for successful adaptation to climate change and variability in the context of an ongoing decentralization process, by examining the relatively understudied relationship between adaptive capacity and features of governance and culture. Here we present a case study on forests, climate change and aspects of adaptive capacity under a changing institutional landscape in two municipalities in the south-west of Burkina Faso. Adaptive capacity, in this chapter, is also understood as a function of governance features – such as institutional governance structures – and the individual understandings of the actors involved in decision-making processes related to FEGS. The chapter concludes by highlighting the importance of knowledge to overcome resource dependency and of two key features of governance essential for technical and societal adaptation to climate change: (1) individual understandings and (2) institutional flexibility dependent upon close links with local realities.
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