Date of Award

June 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Administration


David Popp

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


This dissertation is comprised of three essays which examine innovation, both technological and institutional, as a response aimed to adapting to climate change and natural disasters. Specifically, the first two papers seek to understand the drivers and implications of adaptation-related technological innovations. The third paper draws on the policy innovation theory to examine factors that shape the decision of state governments to engage in comprehensive climate adaptation planning.

In Chapter 1, I examine the drivers of technical innovation as an important form of adaptation by investigating the impact of three types of natural disasters—floods, droughts and earthquakes—on the patenting activities of their respective mitigation technologies. Using patent and disaster damage data, this study is the first to empirically examine adaptation responses across multiple sectors at the country level. My empirical analysis, using a panel of 28 countries over a period of 25 years, shows that a country’s risk-mitigating innovations increase significantly with the severity of disasters it has recently experienced, while the degree of impact varies across different types of disasters and technologies.

In Chapter 2, I evaluate the effectiveness of the risk-mitigating innovations in reducing disaster impacts in the case of earthquakes. By conceptualizing adaptation as a learning process, I examine the effect of technical knowledge stocks, constructed by patent counts in quake-proof building technologies, and informal knowledge, measured by prior earthquake experiences, on reducing earthquake-related losses. Using a global cross section, I find that countries with more earthquake-mitigation technical innovations and more earthquake exposure in the past suffer fewer fatalities. This “learning-by-doing” effect is much larger in high-income countries, which suggests their stronger adaptive capacity.

Finally, Chapter 3 focuses on climate adaptation planning in the U.S. by examining the factors that drive state governments to develop comprehensive adaptation plans. I use an event history analysis to examine both internal factors (states’ climate risks, adaptive capacity and political interests in climate change) and policy diffusion among states within the same climate regions. This study finds that the state-level adaptation decision is highly driven by the extreme weather events the state has recently experienced, and also associated with the state’s potential exposure to climate risks, income level, civic engagement and environmental preferences. By examining the motivation for and barriers to subnational adaptation responses, this research has important implications for environmental federalism and governance.

From the innovation perspective, my dissertation contributes to a deeper understanding of adaptation as a dynamic social-learning process, and sheds light on what drives society to adapt to environmental changes and shocks. It also informs an integrated policy approach to facilitating efficient climate adaptation and natural hazard mitigation.


Open Access