The Law for Social-Ecological Resilience Conference highlighted the impact of law on environmental governance, ecosystem management and sustainability policies – ranging from local to global contexts. It assessed, analysed and debated the impact of legal structures, principles, processes and concepts on the capacity of societies to manage ecosystems, withstand environmental degradation as well as economic shocks, and rebuild and renew itself afterwards. Such endeavours require multi- and transdisciplinary research.
Legal structures, principles and processes, as well as core concepts of the rule of law, impinge on the capacity of societies to manage ecosystems, withstand environmental degradation as well as economic shocks, and rebuild and renew themselves afterwards. Law thus affects the resilience of social-ecological systems, positively or negatively. The Conference addressed to what extent legal structures, concepts and thinking match important elements of environmental and health governance and ecosystems management, such as:
Dealing with uncertainties and surprises
Sustaining and absorbing stress, external interference and complex change, whether man-made or not, and
Managing non-linear effects and tipping-points.
In these respects, environmental laws are of course crucial, as they set standards and procedures for the control of polluting activities, chemicals and waste, and for the protection of sensitive areas. But do the current attempts and approaches really promote social-ecological resilience? Or could they even be counter-productive for this end? Are they flexible and adaptive enough, while ensuring that due responsibility and liability is conferred on operators of harmful activities and other actors?
Not only environmental laws matter for the societies’ capacity to adequately manage environmental concerns. Concepts and principles of private law, administrative law and constitutional law, such as property, proportionality and legal certainty, also affect the prospect for environmental governance and ecosystem management. Moreover, can core notions of the rule of law, such as legal certainty and clear jurisdictional allocation between parts of public administration, square with the need for flexibility, adaptivity and openness in environmental governance?
Considerations of scales and multilevel governance immediately engage international law, with its emphasis on state sovereignty and jurisdictional allocations. Are international treaty arrangements, international organisations and different international and transboundary regimes adequate to ensure proper ecosystem management? Does EU law provide a mid-way between national and international law, that facilitates multilevel governance?
For further reading about social-ecological resilience, see e.g.:
Carl Folke, "Resilience: the emergence
of a perspective for social-ecological analyses" in 16 Global
Environmental Change (2006) 253.
For further reading about law and social-ecological resilience, see e.g.: Jonas Ebbesson, "The rule of law in governance of complex socio-ecological changes", in 20 Global Environmental Change (2010) forthcoming.