Legal systems governing water quality and water allocation have a long tradition of regulating the human–environment interface with rules based on the premise that the ecological freshwater systems – and the social systems dependent on them – are relatively linear and stable. Our present scientific understanding does not support this premise. On the contrary, there are considerable uncertainties in predicting how these socio-ecological systems will function. This setting is challenging for traditional understandings of law and governance.
The Adaptive Water Governance (AWG) Project, a former SESYNC pursuit led by Lance Gunderson and Barbara Cosens, used ecological resilience theory, including panarchy, to bridge design of new governance to the behavior of complex socio-ecological systems. The AWG Project identified three major challenges to the emergence of new or adaptive environmental governance that law and government may play a role in facilitating: (1) by engaging in the preparation to take advantage of windows of opportunity and developing the tools to institutionalize the results of innovative solutions; (2) by assuring that the structure and process of government provides stability while creating room for flexibility and innovation, and that it does so without harm to legitimacy, accountability, equity and justice; and (3) by engaging in an intentional effort to empower government to build the adaptive and participatory capacity of local actors to engage in adaptive governance.
This workshop will build on the AWG pursuit, by taking a comparative look across the U.S. and Northern Europe at the role of law and government in circumstances that illustrate the three major challenges identified above. In addition, the workshop will seek to build a common dialogue at the theoretical and conceptual level among the participants.