Natural Resources, School of


Untapped capacity for resilience in environmental law

Ahjond S. Garmestani, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency & Utrecht University School of Law
J.B. Ruhl, Vanderbilt University Law School
Robin K. Craig, University of Utah
Helena F. M. W. van Rijswick, Utrecht University School of Law
David G. Angeler, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Carl Folke, Stockholm University and Beijer Institute
Lance Gunderson, Emory University
Dirac L. Twidwell Jr, University of Nebraska‐Lincoln
Craig R. Allen, University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Document Type Article

PNAS | October 1, 2019 | vol. 116 | no. 40 | 19899–19904 SUSTAINABILITY SCIENCE


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 socialecological resilience and by using those laws to allow socialecological 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.