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The role of law in adapting to climate change



Legal institutions and instruments will play an important role in climate change adaptation, along with technological, managerial, and behavioral strategies. Law can facilitate adaptation, using regulation to reduce exposure or sensitivity to climate hazards, establishing the legal architecture for new market mechanisms, and funding arrangements for adaptation costs and liability for climate impacts. It can also ensure the accountability of adaptation decision making and addressing some of the social justice dimensions of adaptation. Yet there are also characteristics of legal institutions, processes, and principles that may impede adaptation, including by creating compensable property rights that hinder new regulation. There are several characteristics of climate change and associated impacts that will make law-making for adaptation uniquely challenging. These include high levels of cascading uncertainty, irreversibility, the context-specificity of impacts, the long delay between emissions and impacts, and the interaction between climate change impacts and other environmental, social, and economic stressors. Laws dealing with substantive climate impacts may be appropriate and necessary in some cases, but the broader challenge for law-makers is to make legal processes and instruments more adaptive and responsive to change itself. WIREs Clim Change 2011 2 283–295 DOI: 10.1002/wcc.96

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