The term “governance” encompasses both governmental and nongovernmental participation in collective choice and action. Law dictates the structure, boundaries, rules, and processes within which governmental action takes place, and in doing so becomes one of the focal points for analysis of barriers to adaptation as the effects of climate change are felt. Adaptive governance must therefore contemplate a level of flexibility and evolution in governmental action beyond that currently found in the heavily administrative governments of many democracies. Nevertheless, over time, law itself has proven highly adaptive in western systems of government, evolving to address and even facilitate the emergence of new social norms (such as the rights of women and minorities) or to provide remedies for emerging problems (such as pollution). Thus, there is no question that law can adapt, evolve, and be reformed to make room for adaptive governance. In doing this, not only may barriers be removed, but law may be adjusted to facilitate adaptive governance and to aid in institutionalizing new and emerging approaches to governance. The key is to do so in a way that also enhances legitimacy, accountability, and justice, or else such reforms will never be adopted by democratic societies, or if adopted, will destabilize those societies. By identifying those aspects of the frameworks for adaptive governance reviewed in the introduction to this special feature relevant to the legal system, we present guidelines for evaluating the role of law in environmental governance to identify the ways in which law can be used, adapted, and reformed to facilitate adaptive governance and to do so in a way that enhances the legitimacy of governmental action.
Read the article in Ecology and Society.