Foreword: On the Imperative of Adapting to Climate Change

Forthcoming, Yale Journal on Regulation

9 Pages Posted: 12 Jan 2022

See all articles by Cass R. Sunstein

Cass R. Sunstein

Harvard Law School; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: January 11, 2022


With respect to climate change, the principal focus of both research and public policy has been on mitigation – on reducing greenhouse gas emissions so as to reduce anticipated adverse effects. But it is increasingly clear that adaptation must also be a high priority. Climate-related risks – including flooding, extreme heat, wildfires, droughts, and hurricanes – are quite serious and are likely to grow over time. Creative and not-so-creative measures to nudge, incentivize, and mandate adaptation may well have benefits far in excess of costs – and may, in fact, deliver higher net benefits than some efforts at mitigation. Because significant climate change is now occurring, and will almost certainly create increasing risks over time, adaptation is essential. It must be carefully assessed with attention to (a) its aggregate effects on social welfare and (b) its distributional impacts. Cost-benefit analysis can much help with (a), but it can run into serious concerns, not only because of (b), but also because of epistemic gaps and because of its failure, in some cases, adequately to capture welfare effects.

Keywords: climate change, mitigation, adaptation, resilience, flooding, extreme heat

JEL Classification: Q50, Q54, K32

Suggested Citation

Sunstein, Cass R., Foreword: On the Imperative of Adapting to Climate Change (January 11, 2022). Forthcoming, Yale Journal on Regulation, Available at SSRN: or

Cass R. Sunstein (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

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Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

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