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Enhancing Resilience and Justice in Climate Adaptation Laws

  • Joseph Wenta (a1), Jan McDonald (a2) and Jeffrey S. McGee (a3)


Resilience thinking – an approach for understanding and managing change – is increasingly central to climate change adaptation law and policy. Yet the influence of adaptation law and policy on the distribution of climate impacts is often overlooked in studies of socio-ecological resilience to climate change. This article demonstrates how environmental justice scholarship helps to address this gap in the literature relating to adaptation law and resilience. Drawing on existing literature, the article identifies four principles to promote resilience and justice through climate adaptation laws. Climate adaptation laws must (i) prepare for, and respond to, change; (ii) address the distributive effects of climate change and adaptation; (iii) promote participation in adaptation processes; and (iv) cross sectors and scales. Each criterion can be implemented in part through existing legal processes, but might also be further supported by incremental law reform. Developing both resilience and justice dimensions will enhance the effectiveness of adaptation laws in addressing climate impacts.

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The authors acknowledge Dr Aysha Fleming’s thoughtful feedback on earlier versions of this manuscript, and thank TEL’s anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.



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1 Stocker, T.F. et al., ‘Summary for Policymakers’, in T.F. Stocker et al. (eds), Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 329.

2 Noble, I.R. et al., ‘Adaptation Needs and Options’, in C.B. Field et al. (eds), Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. 833868, at 845 (Table 14-1).

3 E.g., Australian Government, National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy (Commonwealth of Australia, 2015), available at:

4 Paavola, J. & Adger, W.N., ‘Fair Adaptation to Climate Change’ (2006) 56(4) Ecological Economics, pp. 594609, at 596–7.

5 Dow, K., Kasperson, R.E. & Bohn, M., ‘Exploring the Social Justice Implications of Adaptation and Vulnerability’, in W.N. Adger et al. (eds), Fairness in Adaptation to Climate Change (The MIT Press, 2006), pp. 7996, at 82.

6 Caniglia, B.S.. Vallée, M. & Frank, B. (eds), Resilience, Environmental Justice and the City (Routledge, 2017); Hutter, B.M. (ed.), Risk, Resilience, Inequality and Environmental Law (Edward Elgar, 2017).

7 Berrang-Ford, L. et al., ‘What Drives National Adaptation? A Global Assessment’ (2014) 124 Climatic Change, pp. 441450, at 448.

8 Green, O.O. et al., ‘Barriers and Bridges to the Integration of Social-Ecological Resilience and Law’ (2015) 13(6) Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, pp. 332337.

9 Craig, R.K. et al., ‘Balancing Stability and Flexibility in Adaptive Governance: An Analysis of Tools Available in US Environmental Law’ (2017) 22(2) Ecology and Society online articles, article 3, pp. 610, available at: On the challenges of incorporating flexibility into environmental laws, see Biber, E. & Eagle, J., ‘When Does Legal Flexibility Work in Environmental Law?’ (2015) 42(4) Ecology Law Quarterly, pp. 787840, at 791–800; and International Risk Governance Council, Transatlantic Patterns of Risk Regulation: Implications for International Trade and Cooperation (EPFL International Risk Governance Center, 2017), pp. 6061.

10 McDonald, J., ‘The Role of Law in Adapting to Climate Change’ (2011) 2(2) Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, pp 283295, at 288.

11 Major contributions have focused largely on procedural dimensions of justice: e.g., Cosens, B.A. et al., ‘The Role of Law in Adaptive Governance’ (2017) 22(1) Ecology and Society online articles, article 30, p. 2, available at: On the distributive consequences of law and governance, see Paavola, J., ‘Protected Areas Governance and Justice: Theory and the European Union’s Habitats Directive’ (2004) 1(1) Environmental Sciences, pp. 5977, at 67.

12 Doremus, H., ‘Constitutive Law and Environmental Policy’ (2003) 22 Stanford Environmental Law Journal, pp. 295378.

13 Ruhl, J.B., ‘Climate Change Adaptation and the Structural Transformation of Environmental Law’ (2010) 40(2) Environmental Law, pp. 363435, at 406–9 and 426–31.

14 McDonald, n. 10 above, p. 288. Note, however, that adaptation is not limited to domestic legal systems; some examples therefore focus on the international or global scale. The principles are equally capable of application – perhaps with differing emphases – to both domestic and international climate law and governance.

15 Walker, B. & Salt, D., Resilience Thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World (Island Press, 2006), pp. 910.

16 Walker, B. et al., ‘Resilience, Adaptability and Transformability in Social-Ecological Systems’ (2004) 9(2) Ecology and Society online articles, article 5, p. 3, available at:

17 Folke, C., ‘Resilience: The Emergence of a Perspective for Social-Ecological Systems Analyses’ (2006) 16(3) Global Environmental Change, pp. 253267, at 259. The socio-ecological approach to resilience builds on the scholarship of C.S. Holling, who challenged the assumption that ecosystems respond to disturbances by rebounding to a static equilibrium (i.e. ‘engineering resilience’). He instead demonstrated that ecosystems persist by responding dynamically to change, including by shifting to new system states in order to maintain key features: ‘ecological resilience’, then, referred to ‘the persistence of systems … and their ability to absorb change and disturbance and still maintain the same relationships between populations or state variables’: Holling, C.S., ‘Resilience and Stability of Ecological Systems’ (1973) 4 Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, pp. 123, at 14. See also Gunderson, L.H. & Allen, C.R., ‘Why Resilience? Why Now?’, in L.H. Gunderson, C.R. Allen & C.S. Holling (eds), Foundations of Ecological Resilience (Island Press, 2010), pp. xiiixxv, at xiii, xiv–xv. In the remainder of this article, we use ‘resilience’ to refer to socio-ecological resilience.

18 Folke, C., ‘Resilience (Republished)’ (2016) 21(4) Ecology and Society online articles, article 44, p. 1, available at:; Deppisch, S. & Hasibovic, S., ‘Social-Ecological Resilience Thinking as a Bridging Concept in Transdisciplinary Research on Climate-Change Adaptation’ (2013) 67(1) Natural Hazards, pp. 117127, at 120–2; Füngfeld, H. & McEvoy, D., ‘Resilience as a Useful Concept for Climate Change Adaptation’ (2012) 13(2) Planning Theory and Practice, pp. 324328.

19 Ostrom, E., ‘A General Framework for Analyzing Sustainability of Social-Ecological Systems’ (2009) 325(5939) Science, pp. 419422, at 419.

20 Walker & Salt, n. 15 above, pp. 32, 34. Walker, B. et al., ‘A Handful of Heuristics and Some Propositions for Understanding Resilience in Social-Ecological Systems’ (2006) 11 Ecology and Society online articles, article 13, pp. 3, 6, available at:

21 Ecological approaches to resilience are discussed at n. 17 above. The application of ecological resilience concepts to social systems has been referred to as social resilience: Adger, W.N., ‘Social and Ecological Resilience: Are They Related?’ (2000) 24(3) Progress in Human Geography, pp. 347364, at 361.

22 Biggs, R., Schlüter, M. & Schoon, M.L., ‘An Introduction to the Resilience Approach and Principles to Sustain Ecosystem Services in Social-Ecological Systems’, in R. Biggs, M. Schlüter & M.L. Schoon (eds), Principles for Building Resilience: Sustaining Ecosystem Services in Social-Ecological Systems (Cambridge University Press, 2015), pp. 131, at 6, 9.

23 Rammel, C., Stagl, S. & Wilfing, H., ‘Managing Complex Adaptive Systems: A Co-evolutionary Perspective on Natural Resource Management’ (2007) 63(1) Ecological Economics, pp. 921, at 10.

24 Although systems may comprise many variables, certain ‘key’ variables drive those systems: U. Pisano, ‘Resilience and Sustainable Development: Theory of Resilience, Systems Thinking and Adaptive Governance’, European Sustainable Development Network, ESDN Quarterly Report No. 26, Sept. 2012, p. 13, available at:

25 Walker & Salt, n. 15 above, p. 53.

26 Ibid., p. 55.

27 Walker et al., n. 16 above, p. 3.

28 Walker & Salt, n. 15 above, pp. 55, 59.

29 Walker et al., n. 16 above, p. 3.

30 Holling, C.S., ‘Response to “Panarchy and the Law”’ (2012) 17(4) Ecology and Society online articles, article 37, p, 1, available at:

31 Chaffin, B.C., Craig, R.K. & Gosnell, H., ‘Resilience, Adaptation, and Transformation in the Klamath River Basin Social-Ecological System’ (2014) 51(1) Idaho Law Review, pp. 157193, at 190.

32 Flatt, V.B., ‘Adapting Laws for a Changing World: A Systemic Approach to Climate Change Adaptation’ (2012) 64(1) Florida Law Review, pp. 269293, at 290–1.

33 E.g., Australian Government, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Commonwealth Fisheries Harvest Strategy: Policy and Guidelines, Sept. 2007; see also McDonald, J. & Styles, M., ‘Legal Strategies for Adaptive Management under Climate Change’ (2014) 26(1) Journal of Environmental Law, pp. 2553, at 46.

34 Chaffin, B.C. et al., ‘Transformative Environmental Governance’ (2016) 41 Annual Review of Environment and Resources, pp. 399423, at 410–1.

35 Walker & Salt, n. 15 above, p. 75.

36 Walker et al., n. 16 above, p. 2.

37 Allen, C.R. et al., ‘Panarchy: Theory and Application’ (2014) 17(4) Ecosystems, pp. 578589, at 579; Carpenter, S. et al., ‘From Metaphor to Measurement: Resilience of What to What?’ (2001) 4(8) Ecosystems, pp. 765781, at 766.

38 Walker et al., n. 16 above, p. 2.

39 Walker & Salt, n. 15 above, p. 75.

40 The term ‘panarchy’ combines the words ‘Pan’ (the name of the Greek god of nature, representing unpredictable change) and ‘hierarchy’ (representing the multi-level character of socio-ecological systems): see Holling, C.S., Gunderson, L. & Peterson, G.D., ‘Sustainability and Panarchies’, in L.H. Gunderson & C.S. Holling (eds), Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems (Island Press, 2002), pp. 63102, at 72–4.

41 Ibid., pp. 75–6.

42 Ibid., p. 76.

43 Walker & Salt, n. 15 above, p. 90.

44 Gunderson, L.H. et al., ‘Escaping a Rigidity Trap: Governance and Adaptive Capacity to Climate Change in the Everglades Social Ecological System’ (2014) 51(1) Idaho Law Review, pp. 127156; see also Garmestani, A. & Benson, M.H., ‘A Framework for Resilience-based Governance of Social-Ecological Systems’ (2013) 18(1) Ecology and Society online articles, article 9, pp. 67, available at:

45 Davidson, D.J., ‘The Applicability of the Concept of Resilience to Social Systems: Some Sources of Optimism and Nagging Doubts’ (2010) 23(12) Society and Natural Resources, pp. 11351149, at 1143. Adger, W.N. et al., ‘Are There Social Limits to Adaptation to Climate Change?’ (2008) 93(3–4) Climatic Change, pp. 335354.

46 Stojanovic, T. et al., ‘The “Social” Aspect of Socio-Ecological Systems: A Critique of Analytical Frameworks and Findings from a Multisite Study of Coastal Sustainability’ (2016) 21(3) Ecology and Society online article, article 15, pp. 34, 10, available at:

47 Davidson, n. 45 above, pp. 1142–4; Cretney, R., ‘Resilience for Whom? Emerging Critical Geographies of Socio-Ecological Resilience’ (2014) 8/9 Geography Compass, pp. 627640, at 632, 634; Cote, M. & Nightingale, A.J., ‘Resilience Thinking Meets Social Theory: Situating Social Change in Socio-Ecological Systems (SES) Research’ (2012) 36(4) Progress in Human Geography, pp. 475489, at 479.

48 Joseph, J., ‘Resilience as Embedded Neoliberalism: A Governmentality Approach’ (2013) 1(1) Resilience: International Policies, Practices and Discourses, pp. 3852, at 39; see also Walker, J. & Cooper, M., ‘Genealogies of Resilience: From Systems Ecology to the Political Economy of Crisis Adaptation’ (2011) 42(2) Security Dialogue, pp. 143160.

49 MacKinnon, D. & Derickson, K.D., ‘From Resilience to Resourcefulness: A Critique of Resilience Policy and Activism’ (2012) 37(2) Progress in Human Geography, pp. 253270, at 258–9.

50 Davidson, J.L. et al., ‘Interrogating Resilience: Toward a Typology to Improve its Operationalization’ (2016) 21(2) Ecology and Society online articles, article 27, p. 3, available at:

51 There are two discernible strands in the literature exploring the relationship between law and resilience: the ‘resilience of legal systems’ literature, which applies the resilience approach to legal systems themselves (see, e.g., Ruhl, J.B., ‘General Design Principles for Resilience and Adaptive Capacity in Legal Systems – With Applications to Climate Change Adaptation’ (2011) 89(5) North Carolina Law Review, pp. 13731403, at 1379–85), and a ‘law for resilience’ literature, which uses the principles of resilience thinking to assess and enhance the influence of law in promoting resilience. This article examines the latter aspect of the existing literature; a similar approach is adopted in Niall, S. & Kallies, A., ‘Electricity Systems between Climate Mitigation and Climate Adaptation Pressures: Can Legal Frameworks for “Resilience” Provide Answers?’ (2017) 34(6) Environmental and Planning Law Journal, pp. 488502, at 492.

52 Socio-ecological resilience is the most prominent approach to resilience identified in this literature. For a notable exception, see Angelo, M.J., ‘Stumbling Toward Success: A Story of Adaptive Law and Ecological Resilience’ (2008) 87(4) Nebraska Law Review, pp. 9501007, at 959–65.

53 Many of the key sources identified in this article stem from a core group of US legal and interdisciplinary scholars who have developed major research projects investigating the relationship of resilience thinking and law: see Arnold, C.A. et al., ‘Cross-Interdisciplinary Insights into Adaptive Governance and Resilience’ (2017) 22(4) Ecology and Society online articles, article 14, p. 13, available at: European and Australian examples are less prominent: see, e.g., Keessen, A.M. & van Rijswick, H.F.M.W., ‘Adaptation to Climate Change in European Water Law and Policy’ (2012) 8(3) Utrecht Law Review, pp. 3850; and McDonald, J., McCormack, P.C. & Foerster, A., ‘Promoting Resilience to Climate Change in Australian Conservation Law: The Case of Biodiversity Offsets’ (2016) 39(4) University of New South Wales Law Journal, pp. 16121651; and Niall & Kallies, n. 51 above.

54 E.g., Ruhl, n. 13 above; Craig, R.K., ‘“Stationarity is Dead” – Long Live Transformation: Five Principles for Climate Change Adaptation Law’ (2010) 34(1) Harvard Environmental Law Review, pp. 973; Camacho, A.E. & Beard, T.D., ‘Maintaining Resilience in the Face of Climate Change’, in A.S. Garmestani & C.R. Allen (eds), Social-Ecological Resilience and Law (Columbia University Press, 2014), pp. 235264; Cosens, B. et al., ‘Identifying Legal, Ecological and Governance Obstacles, and Opportunities for Adapting to Climate Change’ (2014) 6(4) Sustainability, pp. 23382356.

55 E.g., Zellmer, S. & Gunderson, L., ‘Why Resilience May Not Always Be a Good Thing: Lessons in Ecosystem Restoration from Glen Canyon and the Everglades’ (2008) 87(4) Nebraska Law Review, pp. 893949, at 898.

56 E.g., Benson, M.H., ‘Reconceptualizing Environmental Challenges: Is Resilience the New Narrative?’ (2015) 21(1) Journal of Environmental and Sustainability Law, pp. 99126, at 116–7; Birge, H.E. et al., ‘Social-Ecological Resilience and Law in the Platte River Basin’ (2014) 51(1) Idaho Law Review, pp. 229256, at 250–2.

57 E.g., Arnold, C.A. et al., ‘The Social-Ecological Resilience of an Eastern Urban-Suburban Watershed: The Anacostia River Basin’ (2014) 51(1) Idaho Law Review, pp. 2990, at 75–80; Chaffin et al., n. 34 above, pp. 410–1.

58 E.g., Garmestani, A.S., Allen, C.R. & Cabezas, H., ‘Panarchy, Adaptive Management and Governance: Policy Options for Building Resilience’ (2008) 87(4) Nebraska Law Review, pp. 10361054, at 1049–51; Cosens, B., ‘Resilience and Law as a Theoretical Backdrop for Natural Resource Management: Flood Management in the Columbia River Basin’ (2012) 42 Environmental Law, pp. 241264, at 247, 262; Cosens, B.A. & Williams, M.K., ‘Resilience and Water Governance: Adaptive Governance in the Columbia River Basin’ (2012) 17(4) Ecology and Society online articles, article 3, p. 10, available at:; Birge et al., n. 56 above, pp. 250–2.

59 E.g., Bond, A. et al., ‘Managing Uncertainty, Ambiguity and Ignorance in Impact Assessment by Embedding Evolutionary Resilience, Participatory Modelling and Adaptive Management’ (2015) 151 Journal of Environmental Planning, pp. 97104, at 99–100.

60 E.g., Humby, T.-L., ‘Law and Resilience: Mapping the Literature’ (2014) 4(1) Seattle Journal of Environmental Law, pp. 85130, at 94–5.

61 Craig, n. 54 above, p. 36; Craig, R.K., ‘Learning to think about Complex Environmental Systems in Environmental and Natural Resource Law and Legal Scholarship: A Twenty-Year Retrospective’ (2012) 24(1) Fordham Environmental Law Review, pp. 87102, at 101.

62 Green et al., n. 8 above, p. 335.

63 Karkkainen, B.C., ‘Collaborative Ecosystem Governance: Scale, Complexity and Dynamism’ (2002–03) 21 Virginia Environmental Law Journal, pp. 189243, at 212–7; Cosens & Williams, n. 58 above, pp. 1, 10; J. Ebbesson & C. Folke, ‘Matching Scales of Law with Social-Ecological Contexts to Promote Resilience’, in Garmestani & Allen, n. 54 above, pp. 265–92, at 267, 284.

64 C.A. Arnold & L.H. Gunderson, ‘Adaptive Law’, in Garmestani & Allen, n. 54 above, pp. 317–64, at 349.

65 E.g., Ruhl, n. 51 above, pp. 1382–3.

66 Arnold et al., n. 53 above, p. 9; Cosens et al., n. 54 above, p. 2341.

67 Arnold, C.A. & Gunderson, L.H., ‘Adaptive Law and Resilience’ (2013) 43(5) Environmental Law Reporter, pp. 1042610443, at 10427; Green et al., n. 8 above, pp. 332–3.

68 Ruhl, n. 51 above, pp. 1379–82.

69 Benson, M.H. & Schultz, C., ‘Adaptive Management and Law’, in C.R. Allen & A. Garmestani (eds), Adaptive Management of Social-Ecological Systems (Springer, 2015), pp. 3959, at 41.

70 E.g., Holling, n. 30 above, p. 1; Garmestani & Benson, n. 44 above, p. 8; Ruhl, J.B., ‘Panarchy and the Law’ (2012) 17(3) Ecology and Society online articles, article 31, pp. 2, 4, available at:; Walker, B.H., ‘A Commentary on “Resilience and Water Governance: Adaptive Governance in the Columbia River Basin”’ (2012) 17(4) Ecology and Society online articles, article 29, p. 1, available at:

71 Ruhl, ibid., p. 2.

72 E.g., Humby, n. 60 above; Ebbesson, J. & Hey, E., ‘Introduction: Where in Law is Socio-Ecological Resilience?’ (2013) 18(3) Ecology and Society online articles, article 25, p. 1, available at:

73 E.g., Coastal Management Act 2016 (NSW), ss. 3(a), (i) and 6–8.

74 A.S. Garmestani & C.R. Allen, ‘Adaptive Management of Social-Ecological Systems: The Path Forward’, in Allen & Garmestani, n. 69 above, pp. 255–62, at 258–9; Green et al., n. 8 above, p. 332. For explorations of how adaptive management might be facilitated through laws and legal processes, see, e.g., McDonald & Styles, n. 33 above; Slattery, C., ‘Canary in the Coal Mine: Why the Approval Conditions for the Carmichael Mine Reveal the Need to Amend the EPBC Act to Incorporate Adaptive Management Principles’ (2016) 33(5) Environmental and Planning Law Journal, pp. 421442, at 441–2; Craig, R.K. et al., ‘A Proposal for Amending Administrative Law to Facilitate Adaptive Management’ (2017) 12(7) Environmental Research Letters, available at:

75 Cosens et al., n. 11 above, p. 8; Ebbesson & Hey, n. 72 above, pp. 1–2; see also text at n. 207 below.

76 Ebbesson, J., ‘The Rule of Law in Governance of Complex Socio-Ecological Changes’ (2010) 20 Global Environmental Change, pp. 414422, at 415.

77 Ebbesson & Hey, n. 72 above, p. 2. The significance of participatory processes is discussed further at nn. 188–195 below.

78 Kaswan, A., ‘Environmental Justice and Environmental Law’ (2012–13) 24(2) Fordham Environmental Law Review, pp. 149179, at 150. This article uses the phrase ‘environmental hazards’ to include types of environmental harm that already affect communities and the risk of future impacts.

79 Bullard, R., ‘Levelling the Playing Field through Environmental Justice’ (1998–99) 23(3) Vermont Law Review, pp. 453478, at 453–4.

80 This statement is heavily influenced by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), ‘Environmental Justice’, 14 Apr. 2016, available at: See also Walker, G., Environmental Justice: Concepts, Evidence and Politics (Routledge, 2014), pp. 811, who notes that environmental justice definitions typically share three common features: (i) a concern with justice ‘for people’; (ii) an articulation of the concept of the environment; and (iii) a diverse understanding of justice. Ultimately, however, environmental justice ‘def[ies] universal definition’.

81 See Walker, ibid., pp. 23–34; Sze, J. & London, J.K., ‘Environmental Justice at the Crossroads’ (2008) 2(4) Sociology Compass, pp. 13311354, at 1341–2; Schlosberg, D., Defining Environmental Justice: Theories, Movements, and Nature (Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 42.

82 Walker, n. 80 above, p. 23; Pellow, D.N., Resisting Global Toxics: Transnational Movements for Environmental Justice (The MIT Press, 2007), p. 5.

83 This emphasis on people’s lived experiences distinguishes environmental justice from ecological approaches to justice, although the distinction is probably a matter of emphasis and degree. For an introduction to ecological justice, see Baxter, B., A Theory of Environmental Justice (Routledge, 2005), pp. 78. For consideration of non-human aspects of socio-ecological systems through an environmental justice lens, see, e.g., Schlosberg, n. 81 above, pp. 142–57. As for hazards above, the term ‘benefit’ includes both advantages that are already accruing to a community, and potential future benefits.

84 E.g., Walker, n. 80 above, p. 35.

85 Walker, n. 80 above, pp. 42–53; Schlosberg, n. 81 above, p. 11.

86 In emphasizing these four dimensions, this article draws heavily on Schlosberg’s leading contributions to this area of research.

87 Kuehn, R.R., ‘A Taxonomy of Environmental Justice’ (2000) 30(9) Environmental Law Reporter, pp. 1068110703, at 10684.

88 Kaswan, A., ‘Distributive Justice and the Environment’ (2002–03) 81(3) North Carolina Law Review, pp. 10311148, at 1044.

89 Kuehn, n. 87 above, p. 10684.

90 Ikeme, J., ‘Equity, Environmental Justice and Sustainability: Incomplete Approaches in Climate Change Politics’ (2003) 13(3) Global Environmental Change, pp. 195206, at 198.

91 This observation includes, but is not limited to, legal processes.

92 Kaswan, n. 88 above, p. 1045.

93 Preston, B.J., ‘The Effectiveness of the Law in Providing Access to Environmental Justice’, presentation delivered at the 11th IUCN Academy of Environmental Law Colloquium, Hamilton (New Zealand), 28 June 2013, p. 29, available at:,%20brian%20-%20plenary%20paper%20environmental%20justice.pdf.

94 E.g., Kuehn, n. 87 above, p. 10688; Kaswan, A., ‘Environmental Justice: Bridging the Gap between Environmental Laws and “Justice”’ (1997) 47(2) American University Law Review, pp. 221300, at 236–9.

95 Preston outlines three adverse forms of recognition: (i) non-recognition renders aspects of socio-ecological systems invisible; (ii) mis-recognition involves inequality of recognition across dimensions of socio-ecological systems; and (iii) mal-recognition involves unfavourable or damaging portrayals of aspects of socio-ecological systems: Preston, n. 93 above, pp. 43–6. For a more detailed outline of justice as recognition, see Schlosberg, n. 81 above, pp. 13–20.

96 Schlosberg, n. 81 above, p. 30.

97 E.g., Sen, A., The Idea of Justice (Harvard University Press, 2009), pp. 231247; and Nussbaum, M.C., Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach (Harvard University Press, 2011), pp. 1720.

98 See Lyster, R., Climate Justice and Disaster Law (Cambridge University Press, 2015), p. 108; Nussbaum, ibid., pp. 33–4. Sen has elected not to provide a ‘canonical’ list of capabilities: Sen, A., ‘Human Rights and Capabilities’ (2005) 6(2) Journal of Human Development, pp. 151166, at 157–60.

99 E.g., Sen, n. 97 above, p. 231.

100 The labels ‘environmental’ and ‘climate’ justice are used inconsistently across several contexts: see Mohai, P., Pellow, D. & Timmons Roberts, J., ‘Environmental Justice’ (2009) 34(1) Annual Review of Environment and Resources, pp. 405430, at 421.

101 E.g., Timmons Roberts, J. & Parks, B.C., A Climate of Injustice: Global Inequality, North-South Politics, and Climate Policy (The MIT Press, 2006); Lyster, R., ‘Adaptation and Climate Justice’, in J. Verschuuren (ed.), Research Handbook on Climate Change Adaptation Law (Edward Elgar, 2013), pp. 3269, at 32; and Schlosberg, D. & Collins, L.B., ‘From Environmental to Climate Justice: Climate Change and the Discourse of Environmental Justice’ (2014) 5(3) Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, pp, 359374, at 365.

102 E.g., Schlosberg, n. 81 above, p. 46.

103 Barrett, S., ‘The Necessity of a Multiscalar Analysis of Climate Justice’ (2012) 37(2) Progress in Human Geography, pp. 215233, at 218.

104 Lyster, n. 98 above.

105 E.g., Abate, R.S., ‘Public Nuisance Suits for the Climate Justice Movement: The Right Thing and the Right Time’ (2010) 85(2) Washington Law Review, pp. 197252, at 199–200. In addition, at the domestic level, climate justice is often concerned with ‘just transition’ to a low carbon society: see, e.g., Patterson, J.J. et al., ‘Political Feasibility of 1.5°C Societal Transformations: The Role of Social Justice’ (2018) 31 Current Opinion on Environmental Sustainability, pp. 19, at 2; Schlosberg & Collins, n. 101 above, pp. 370. Just transitions often focus on the importance of ensuring that people are not ‘left behind’ as society reorganizes in the face of climate change: see, e.g., Doorey, D.J., ‘Just Transitions Law: Putting Labour Law to Work on Climate Change’ (2017) 30(2) Journal of Environmental Law & Practice, pp. 201239. On the relationship between climate justice, environmental justice and just transitions, see, e.g., Evans, G. & Phelan, L., ‘Transition to a Post-Carbon Society: Linking Environmental Justice and Just Transition Discourses’ (2016) 99 Energy Policy, pp. 329339; Heffron, R.J. &McCauley, D., ‘What is the “Just Transition”’ (2018) 88 Geoforum, pp. 7477.

106 Schlosberg & Collins, n. 101 above, p. 368; see also Abate, R.S., ‘Atmospheric Trust Litigation in the United States: Pipe Dream or Pipeline to Justice for Future Generations?’, in R.S. Abate (ed.), Climate Justice: Case Studies in Global and Regional Governance Challenges (Environmental Law Institute, 2016), pp. 543569, at 546–8.

107 Schlosberg & Collins, n. 101 above, pp. 370–1; Abate, n. 105 above, pp. 207–8. See also Burkett, M., ‘Just Solutions to Climate Change: A Climate Justice Proposal for a Domestic Clean Development Mechanism’ (2008) 56(1) Buffalo Law Review, pp. 169243, at 192–3 (in which climate justice is framed with reference to both national and global scales).

108 Craig, n. 54 above, pp. 43–4.

109 Schlosberg & Collins, n. 101 above, pp. 368, 370.

110 Barrett, S., ‘Local Level Climate Justice? Adaptation Finance and Vulnerability Reduction’ (2013) 23(6) Global Environmental Change, pp. 18191829, at 1819.

111 Adger, W.N., ‘Scales of Governance and Environmental Justice for Adaptation and Mitigation of Climate Change’ (2001) 13(7) Journal of International Development, pp. 921931, at 929.

112 J. Paavola & W.N. Adger, ‘Justice and Adaptation to Climate Change’, Tyndall Centre Working Paper No. 23, 2002, pp. 1–19, at 15.

113 Paavola & Adger, n. 4 above, p. 597.

114 Gibbs, M.T., ‘Why is Coastal Retreat so Hard to Implement? Understanding the Political Risk of Coastal Adaptation Pathways’ (2016) 130 Ocean and Coastal Management, pp. 107114, at 109.

115 Schlosberg, D., Collins, L.B. & Niemeyer, S., ‘Adaptation Policy and Community Discourse: Risk, Vulnerability, and Just Transformation’ (2017) 26(3) Environmental Politics, pp. 413437, at 431.

116 Scholarly analyses published in American law journals reflected wider societal interest in environmental justice in the US in the early 1990s: e.g., Bullard, n. 79 above; Collin, R.W., ‘Review of the Legal Literature on Environmental Racism, Environmental Equity and Environmental Justice’ (1994) 9 Journal of Environmental Law and Litigation, pp. 121171. The environmental justice framework has since proliferated in analyses of US environmental and natural resources laws: e.g., Kaswan, nn. 78 and 94 above.

117 E.g., Preston, n. 93 above; Millner, F., ‘Access to Environmental Justice’ (2011) 16(1) Deakin Law Review, pp. 189207; Jessup, B., ‘Justice, Recognition and Environmental Law: The Wielangta Forest Conflict, Tasmania, Australia’ (2015) 34(1) University of Tasmania Law Review, pp. 533.

118 E.g., Stallworthy, M., ‘Sustainability, Coastal Erosion and Climate Change: An Environmental Justice Analysis’ (2006) 18(3) Journal of Environmental Law, pp. 357373; Pedersen, O.W., ‘Environmental Justice in the UK: Uncertainty, Ambiguity and the Law’ (2011) 31(2) Legal Studies, pp. 279304.

119 E.g., Millner, n. 117 above, pp. 194–9.

120 E.g., Jessup, n. 117 above, pp. 9–19.

121 E.g., Stallworthy, M., ‘Environmental Justice Imperatives for an Era of Climate Change’ (2009) 36(1) Journal of Law and Society, pp. 5574, at 65–9; Millner, n. 117 above, pp. 202–5.

122 E.g., Kaswan, n. 94 above, pp. 268–75; Lazarus, R.J., ‘Pursuing Environmental Justice: The Distributional Effects of Environmental Protection’ (1992–93) 87(3) Northwestern University Law Review, pp. 787857, at 825.

123 On the potential for legal procedures to restrict access to environmental justice, see Kuehn, n. 87 above, pp. 10688–92; Gauna, E., ‘The Environmental Justice Misfit: Public Participation and the Paradigm Paradox’ (1998) 17(1) Stanford Environmental Law Journal, pp. 372, at 16.

124 Kaswan, n. 94 above, pp. 268–70.

125 Ibid.; Preston, n. 93 above, pp. 27–8

126 Kaswan, n. 94 above, pp. 268–9.

127 Ibid., p. 242; see also Preston, n. 93 above, pp. 7–8; laws tend to focus on the existence of environmental hazards per se: e.g., Kaswan, n. 78 above, p. 159.

128 See nn. 79, 87–90 above.

129 Cole, L., ‘Environmental Justice Litigation: Another Stone in David’s Sling’ (1994) 21(3) Fordham Urban Law Journal, pp. 523545, at 527–8.

130 Kaswan, n. 78 above, p. 155; Kaswan, n. 94 above, p. 243.

131 Millner, n. 117 above, pp. 194–6.

132 Johnson, S.M., ‘NEPA and SEPAs in the Quest for Environmental Justice’ (1997) 30(2) Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, pp. 565605, at 578–9; Mahoney, V.P., ‘Environmental Justice: From Partial Victories to Complete Solutions’ (1999) 21 Cardozo Law Review, pp. 361414, at 373, 381.

133 Kaswan, n. 94 above, pp. 296–8.

134 On the importance of addressing the distribution of both hazards and benefits, see Lazarus, n. 122 above, pp. 792–6. See also text at nn. 177–187 below.

135 Saul, B., ‘Climate Change and Resource Scarcity: Towards an International Law of Distributive Justice’, in R. Lyster (ed.), In the Wilds of Climate Law (Australian Academic Press, 2010), pp. 7194, at 87. On the food security implications of climate change, see Wheeler, T. & von Braun, J., ‘Climate Change Impacts on Global Food Security’ (2013) 341(6145) Science, pp. 508513.

136 Mahoney, n. 132 above, p. 410.

137 McEvoy, D., Ahmed, I. & Mullett, J., ‘The Impact of the 2009 Heat Wave on Melbourne’s Critical Infrastructure’ (2012) 17(8) Local Environment, pp. 783796, at 793.

138 E.g., Emergency Management Victoria, ‘State Emergency Response Plan: Extreme Heat Sub-Plan (Edition 2), 2017, pp. 17–8, available at:

139 Mantaay, J., ‘Zoning Law, Health, and Environmental Justice: What’s the Connection?’ (2002) 30(4) Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics, pp. 572593, at 588; see also Kennedy, A., Schafft, K.A. & Howard, T.M., ‘Taking Away David’s Sling: Environmental Justice and Land-Use Conflict in Extractive Resource Development’ (2017) 22(8) Local Environment, pp. 952968, at 961–3.

140 Gauna, n. 123 above, pp. 14, 66; Kaswan, n. 94 above, pp. 296–8; O’Brien, K., ‘Responding to Environmental Change: A New Age for Human Geography?’ (2010) 35(4) Progress in Human Geography, pp. 542549, at 544.

141 The term ‘just resilience’ is used by David Pellow to highlight the importance of drawing together existing scholarship on socio-ecological resilience and environmental justice: Pellow, D.N., ‘Critical Environmental Justice Studies’, in B.S. Caniglia, M. Vallée & B. Frank (eds), Resilience, Environmental Justice and the City (Routledge, 2017), pp. 1736, at 25–6. Although concurring with Pellow’s observations regarding the intersection of socio-ecological resilience and environmental justice, this article adopts a contrasting view of the role of law and the state in the interrelationship of those concepts.

142 Caniglia, B.S. et al., ‘Enhancing Environmental Justice Research and Praxis: The Inclusion of Human Security, Resilience and Vulnerabilities Literature’ (2014) 8(4) International Journal of Innovation and Sustainable Development, pp. 409426.

143 Lyster, n. 98 above, pp. 138–9.

144 Hansson, R. & Mokeeva, E., ‘Securing Resilience to Climate Change Impacts in Coastal Communities through an Environmental Justice Perspective: A Case Study of Mangunharjo, Semarang, Indonesia’ (Master of Science thesis, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm (Sweden), 2015), p. 101.

145 See text at nn. 19–21 above.

146 E.g., Schlosberg, n. 81 above, pp. 47–8.

147 See text at nn. 22–34 above.

148 See text at nn. 35–39 above.

149 Schlosberg, n. 81 above, p. 47.

150 Doorn, N., ‘Resilience Indicators: Opportunities for Including Distributive Justice Concerns in Disaster Management’ (2017) 20(6) Journal of Risk Research, pp. 711731, at 725.

151 Schlosberg & Collins, n. 101 above, p. 370.

152 Ibid.

153 Caniglia et al., n. 142 above, p. 422.

154 Hansson & Mokeeva, n. 144 above, pp. 114–5.

155 Camacho, A.E. & Glicksman, R.L., ‘Legal Adaptive Capacity: How Program Goals and Processes Shape Federal Land Adaptation to Climate Change’ (2016) 87(3) Colorado Law Review, pp. 711826, at 730–3.

156 Ibid.

157 For an overview of adaptive management, see C.R. Allen & A. Garmestani, ‘Adaptive Management’, in Allen & Garmestani, n. 69 above, pp. 1–10.

158 McDonald & Styles, n. 33 above, pp. 45–9.

159 For discussion of the difficulties in implementing such an approach, and the complex interactions of law with social, economic and political dynamics, see Govind, P., ‘Managing the Relationship between Adaptation and Coastal Land Use Development through the Use of s 149 Certificates’ (2011) 7(1) Macquarie Journal of International and Comparative Environmental Law, pp. 94107.

160 For a detailed overview of developments under the US Endangered Species Act 1973, see Chen, J.M., ‘The Fragile Menagerie: Biodiversity Loss, Climate Change, and the Law’ (2018) 93(2) Indiana Law Journal (forthcoming).

161 McDonald, J., ‘A Risky Climate for Decision-Making: The Liability of Development Authorities for Climate Change Impacts’ (2007) 24(6) Environmental and Planning Law Journal, pp. 405416; England, P., ‘Heating Up: Climate Change Law and the Evolving Responsibilities of Local Government’ (2008) 13(3) Local Government Law Journal, pp. 209223, at 216–9.

162 E.g., Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 (NSW), s. 1.3(d); see McCormack, P.C., ‘The Legislative Challenge of Facilitating Climate Change Adaptation for Biodiversity’ (2018) 92(7) Australian Law Journal, pp. 546562.

163 Craig et al., n. 9 above, p. 9.

164 Water Act 2007 (Cth), s. 28; see also Docker, B. & Robinson, I., ‘Environmental Water Management in Australia: Experience from the Murray-Darling Basin’ (2014) 30(1) International Journal of Water Resources Development, pp. 164177.

165 Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), 5 June 1992, in force 29 Dec. 1993, Art. 9, available at:

166 Pidot, J., ‘Governance and Uncertainty’ (2015–16) 37(1) Cardozo Law Review, pp. 113184, at 164–72.

167 McDonald & Styles, n. 33 above, pp. 48–9; J.G. Titus, ‘Rolling Easements’, Climate Ready Estuaries and US EPA, June 2011, available at:

168 Ruhl, n. 13 above, p. 418.

169 McDonald & Styles, n. 33 above, p. 53; Craig et al., n. 74 above, pp. 8–10.

170 Cosens et al., n. 54 above, pp. 2350–1.

171 Biber & Eagle, n. 9 above, pp. 790, 828–31.

172 Camacho, A., ‘Adapting Governance to Climate Change: Managing Uncertainty through a Learning Infrastructure’ (2009–10) 59(1) Emory Law Journal, pp. 177, at 65–70.

173 E.g., Climate Change Act 2017 (Vic), s. 36(c).

174 Flatt, n. 32 above, p. 290; see also Wiener, J.B. & Ribeiro, D.L., ‘Environmental Regulation Going Retro: Learning Foresight from Hindsight’ (2016) 32(1) Journal of Land Use and Environmental Law, pp. 173.

175 McDonald, J., ‘A Short History of Climate Adaptation Law in Australia’ (2014) 4(1–2) Climate Law, pp. 150167, at 157; see also De Caro, D. et al., ‘Legal and Institutional Foundations of Adaptive Environmental Governance’ (2017) 22(1) Ecology and Society online articles, article 32, pp. 5, 9, 13, available at:

176 E.g., Climate Change Response Act 2002 (New Zealand), s. 225.

177 Ruhl, J.B., ‘The Political Economy of Climate Change Winners’ (2012–13) 97(1) Minnesota Law Review, pp. 206277, at 222. The question of how ‘wins’ and ‘losses’ associated with climate impacts are determined and valued raises complex considerations: see O’Brien, K. et al., ‘Toward a Sustainable and Resilient Future’, in C.B. Field et al. (eds), Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation: A Special Report of Working Groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Cambridge University Press, 2015), pp. 437486, at 456–7.

178 Kiem, A.S., ‘Drought and Water Policy in Australia: Challenges for the Future Illustrated by the Issues Associated with Water Trading and Climate Change Adaptation in the Murray-Darling Basin’ (2013) 23 Global Environmental Change, pp. 16151626, at 1624.

179 Lazarus, R.J., ‘The Meaning and Promotion of Environmental Justice’ (1994) 5 Maryland Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues, pp. 112, at 7.

180 Byrne, J. et al., ‘Could Urban Greening Mitigate Suburban Thermal Inequity? The Role of Residents’ Dispositions and Household Practices’ (2016) 11(9) Environmental Research Letters 095104, pp. 116, at 1–2, available at:

181 E.g., Emergency Management Victoria, Victorian Bushfire Handbook (State of Victoria, 2015), p. 1, available at:

182 This article does not take a stance on the relative merits of these priorities; it merely provides a simple illustrative example. Note, too, that the competing interests outlined for the purposes of this example may not be mutually exclusive in all circumstances. However, further exploration of these nuances is beyond the scope of this article.

183 See text at nn. 155–176 above.

184 Kaswan, A., ‘Domestic Climate Change Adaptation and Equity’ (2012) 42(12) Environmental Law Reporter, pp. 1112511143, at 11139, 11141.

185 Kaswan, n. 94 above, pp. 296–8.

186 Kaswan, n. 184 above, p. 11139.

187 McDonald, n. 10 above, p. 286; see also Kaswan, A., ‘Energy, Governance and Market Mechanisms’ (2018) 72(2) University of Miami Law Review, pp. 476579, at 482–4.

188 Cosens et al., n. 54 above, pp. 2350–1.

189 Time constraints (the operationalization of policies in response to extreme weather events, for example) may militate against public consultation. The weight afforded inputs from participatory processes may also vary, as noted in the following paragraph.

190 Milner, n. 117 above, pp. 196–7.

191 Cosens et al., n. 11 above, pp. 6–7.

192 Arnstein, S.R., ‘A Ladder of Citizen Participation’ (1969) 35(4) American Institute of Planning Journal, pp. 216224, at 217.

193 Myers, C.D., Ritter, T. & Rockway, A., ‘Community Deliberation to Build Local Capacity for Climate Change Adaptation: The Rural Climate Dialogues Program’, in W.L. Filho & J. Keenan (eds), Climate Change Adaptation in North America: Fostering Resilience and the Regional Capacity to Adapt (Springer, 2017), pp. 926, at 13–4; see also Woolley, O., Ecological Governance: Reappraising Law’s Role in Protecting Ecosystem Functionality (Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. 210214.

194 Available at:

195 Mahoney, n. 132 above, p. 411.

196 Peel, J., Godden, L. & Keenan, R.J., ‘Climate Change Law in an Era of Multi-Level Governance’ (2012) 1(2) Transnational Environmental Law, pp. 245280, at 272–5.

197 Cosens et al., n. 11 above, pp. 2, 4.

198 Kotschy, K. et al., ‘Principle 1: Maintain Diversity and Redundancy’, in R. Biggs, M. Schlüter & M.L. Schoon (eds), Principles for Building Resilience: Sustaining Ecosystem Services in Social-Ecological Systems (Cambridge University Press, 2015), pp. 5079, at 53–4.

199 Ibid., pp. 52–3.

200 McCormack, P. & McDonald, J., ‘Adaptation Strategies for Biodiversity Conservation: Has Australian Law Got What It Takes?’ (2014) 31(2) Environmental and Planning Law Journal, pp. 114136.

201 Ibid.; McDonald, McCormack & Foerster, n. 53 above.

202 For example, in a federal system, local, regional and national laws may impose overlapping, and perhaps contradictory legal requirements: see, e.g., Tarlock, A.D., ‘Biodiversity Federalism’ (1995) 54 Maryland Law Review, pp. 13151353; McGrath, C., ‘One Stop Shop for Environmental Approvals a Messy Backward Step for Australia’ (2014) 31(3) Environmental and Planning Law Journal, pp. 164191, at 166.

203 As discussed in Part 2 above.

204 Craig, n. 54 above, pp. 60–1.

205 Driscoll, D.A. et al., ‘Resolving Conflicts in Fire Management using Decision Theory: Asset-Protection versus Biodiversity Conservation’ (2010) 3(4) Conservation Letters, pp. 215223, at 216–7, 221; Bardsley, D.K. et al., ‘Climate Change, Bushfire Risk, and Environmental Values: Examining a Potential Risk Perception Threshold in Peri-Urban South Australia’ (2018) 31(4) Society and Natural Resources, pp. 424441, at 427.

206 Foerster, A., Macintosh, A. & McDonald, J., ‘Transferable Lessons for Climate Change Adaptation Planning? Managing Bushfire and Coastal Climate Hazards in Australia’ (2013) 30(6) Environmental and Planning Law Journal, pp. 469490, at 474.

207 Flatt, n. 32 above, p. 284; Camacho, n. 172 above, pp. 65–70.

208 New York, NY (US), 9 May 1992, in force 21 Mar. 1994, available at:

209 UNFCCC Secretariat, Decision 1/CP.16, ‘The Cancún Agreements: Outcome of the Work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action under the Convention’ (15 Mar. 2011), UN Doc. FCCC/CP/2010/7/Add.1., para 20. See also UNFCCC, ‘Overview of UNFCCC Knowledge Resources on Adaptation’, available at:

210 For an overview and history of governmental arrangements in the Murray-Darling Basin, see Connell, D., ‘The Murray-Darling Basin’, in D.E. Garrick et al. (eds), Federal Rivers: Managing Water in Multi-Layered Political Systems (Edward Elgar, 2014), pp. 309322.

211 Benson, M.H. et al., ‘Water Governance Challenges in New Mexico’s Middle Rio Grande Valley: A Resilience Assessment’ (2014–15) 51(1) Idaho Law Review, pp. 195228, at 200–5.

212 Garmestani & Benson, n. 44 above, p. 7; Cosens et al., n. 54 above, pp. 2346, 2352.

213 See text at nn. 40–44 above.

214 E.g., Adger, W.N., Arnell, N.W. & Tompkins, E.L., ‘Successful Adaptation to Climate Change Across Scales’ (2005) 15(2) Global Environmental Change, pp. 7786.

215 McDonald, J., ‘The Ebb and Flow of Coastal Adaptation in Australia’, in R. Abate (ed.), Climate Change Impacts on Ocean and Coastal Law: US and International Perspectives (Oxford University Press, 2015), pp. 627647, at 631–43.

216 See text at nn. 139–140 above.

217 Few, R., Brown, K. & Tompkins, E.L., ‘Public Participation and Climate Change Adaptation: Avoiding the Illusion of Inclusion’ (2007) 7(1) Climate Policy, pp. 4659.

218 See text at n. 140 above.

219 E.g., He, X., ‘Legal and Policy Pathways of Climate Change Adaptation: Comparative Analysis of the Adaptation Practices in the United States, Australia and China’ (2018) 7(2) Transnational Environmental Law, pp. 347373.

The authors acknowledge Dr Aysha Fleming’s thoughtful feedback on earlier versions of this manuscript, and thank TEL’s anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.

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