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Sustainability 2014, 6(4), 2338-2356; doi:10.3390/su6042338
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Identifying Legal, Ecological and Governance Obstacles, and Opportunities for Adapting to Climate Change

1,* , 2
,
3
 and
4
1 College of Law and Waters of the West, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844, USA 2 Department of Environmental Sciences, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA 3 Geological Survey, Nebraska Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE 68583, USA 4 Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA
* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 6 March 2014 / Revised: 14 April 2014 / Accepted: 14 April 2014 / Published: 22 April 2014
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Environmental Law for Sustainability)
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Abstract

Current governance of regional scale water management systems in the United States has not placed them on a path toward sustainability, as conflict and gridlock characterize the social arena and ecosystem services continue to erode. Changing climate may continue this trajectory, but it also provides a catalyst for renewal of ecosystems and a window of opportunity for change in institutions. Resilience provides a bridging concept that predicts that change in ecological and social systems is often dramatic, abrupt, and surprising. Adapting to the uncertainty of climate driven change must be done in a manner perceived as legitimate by the participants in a democratic society. Adaptation must begin with the current hierarchical and fragmented social-ecological system as a baseline from which new approaches must be applied. Achieving a level of integration between ecological concepts and governance requires a dialogue across multiple disciplines, including ecologists with expertise in ecological resilience, hydrologists and climate experts, with social scientists and legal scholars. Criteria and models that link ecological dynamics with policies in complex, multi-jurisdictional water basins with adaptive management and governance frameworks may move these social-ecological systems toward greater sustainability.
Keywords: adaptive governance; ecological resilience; water law; sustainability; social-ecological system adaptive governance; ecological resilience; water law; sustainability; social-ecological system
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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Cosens, B.; Gunderson, L.; Allen, C.; Benson, M.H. Identifying Legal, Ecological and Governance Obstacles, and Opportunities for Adapting to Climate Change. Sustainability 2014, 6, 2338-2356.

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