Unexpected epidemics, abrupt catastrophic shifts in biophysical systems, and economic crises that cascade across national borders and regions are events that challenge the steering capacity of governance at all political levels. This article seeks to extend the applicability of governance theory by developing hypotheses about how different governance types can be expected to handle processes of change characterized by nonlinear dynam-ics, threshold effects, cascades, and limited predictability. The first part of the article argues the relevance of a complex adaptive system approach and goes on to review how well governance theory acknowledges the intriguing behavior of complex adaptive systems. In the second part, we develop a typology of governance systems based on their adaptive capacities. Finally, we investigate how combinations of governance systems on different levels buffer or weaken the capacity to govern complex adaptive systems. 1.