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Governing complexity: Integrating science, governance, and law to manage accelerating change in the globalized commons
The speed and uncertainty of environmental change in the Anthropocene challenge the capacity of coevolving social–ecological–technological systems (SETs) to adapt or transform to these changes. Formal government and legal structures further constrain the adaptive capacity of our SETs. However, new, self-organized forms of adaptive governance are emerging at multiple scales in natural resource-based SETs. Adaptive governance involves the private and public sectors as well as formal and informal institutions, self-organized to fill governance gaps in the traditional roles of states. While new governance forms are emerging, they are not yet doing so rapidly enough to match the pace of environmental change. Furthermore, they do not yet possess the legitimacy or capacity needed to address disparities between the winners and losers from change. These emergent forms of adaptive governance appear to be particularly effective in managing complexity. We explore governance and SETs as coevolving complex systems, focusing on legal systems to understand the potential pathways and obstacles to equitable adaptation. We explore how governments may facilitate the emergence of adaptive governance and promote legitimacy in both the process of governance despite the involvement of nonstate actors, and its adherence to democratic values of equity and justice. To manage the contextual naturemore »
Over the past several decades, environmental governance has made substantial progress in addressing environmental change, but emerging environmental problems require new innovations in law, policy, and governance. While expansive legal reform is unlikely to occur soon, there is untapped potential in existing laws to address environmental change, both by leveraging adaptive and transformative capacities within the law itself to enhance social-ecological resilience and by using those laws to allow social-ecological systems to adapt and transform. Legal and policy research to date has largely overlooked this potential, even though it offers a more expedient approach to addressing environmental change than waiting for full-scale environmental law reform. We highlight examples from the United States and the European Union of untapped capacity in existing laws for fostering resilience in social-ecological systems. We show that governments and other governance agents can make substantial advances in addressing environmental change in the short term—without major legal reform—by exploiting those untapped capacities, and we offer principles and strategies to guide such initiatives.