Adapting Governance to Climate Change: Managing Uncertainty through a Learning Infrastructure

77 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2009 Last revised: 12 May 2013

See all articles by Alejandro E. Camacho

Alejandro E. Camacho

University of California Irvine School of Law; Center for Progressive Reform

Date Written: 2009


Though legislatures and agencies are considering how to prevent further climate change, some adverse effects from a warming climate are already inevitable. Adapting to these effects is essential, but regulators and scholars have largely neglected this need. This Article evaluates the capacity of natural resource governance to cope with the effects of climate change, and provides a framework for Congress to help it do so.

The Article identifies unprecedented uncertainty as the paramount impediment raised by climate change, and demonstrates how existing fragmented governance is poorly adapted to deal with this challenge. Drawing on lessons from prior regulatory experiments, it proposes a comprehensive strategy for managing uncertainty that promotes interagency information sharing. It also recommends that legislators adopt an "adaptive governance" framework that requires agencies to systematically monitor and adapt their decisions and programs. This learning infrastructure would promote agency learning and accountability, help manage uncertainty, and reduce the likelihood and magnitude of mistakes expected to come with facing such an exceptional problem with initially imprecise tools.

The Article operates on four levels. First, it uses case studies to illustrate valuable lessons about the challenges of creating effective natural resource management. Second, the Article is anchored in the specific implications of climate change, considering the value of interagency information sharing and adaptive governance in addressing climate effects. Third, it engages the growing theoretical literature on adaptive management and federalism. Finally, it provides insight on how agencies can manage uncertainty that has far-reaching implications for other areas of administrative regulation.

Keywords: climate change, environmental, administrative law, administrative regulation, natural resources, adaptive management, adaptive governance, collaborative, federalism, fragmentation, adaptation, information clearinghouse

Suggested Citation

Camacho, Alejandro E., Adapting Governance to Climate Change: Managing Uncertainty through a Learning Infrastructure (2009). Emory Law Journal, Vol. 59, No. 1, 2009; Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 09-06. Available at SSRN:

Alejandro E. Camacho (Contact Author)

University of California Irvine School of Law ( email )

401 East Peltason Drive
Irvine, CA 92697-1000
United States
949-824-4160 (Phone)

Center for Progressive Reform ( email )

500 West Baltimore Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
United States

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