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Research article2019Peer reviewedOpen access

Untapped capacity for resilience in environmental law

Garmestani, Ahjond; Ruhl, J. B.; Chaffin, Brian C.; Craig, Robin K.; van Rijswick, Helena F. M. W.; Angeler, David G.; Folke, Carl; Gunderson, Lance; Twidwell, Dirac; Allen, Craig R.


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.


resilience; law; social-ecological systems; environmental governance

Published in

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
2019, Volume: 116, number: 40, pages: 19899-19904

    Sustainable Development Goals

    Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)
    Law (excluding Law and Society)

    Publication identifier


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