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How Will Climate Change Change Law? An Exercise in Legal Futurism

A rapidly growing number of legal academics and practitioners around the world are engaging in one of the largest legal futurism exercises ever endeavored–thinking about how the impacts of climate change and human responses to them will change law.  Climate change presents a future of continuing changes across a wide spectrum of climate variables, everywhere, over an indefinite time horizon, with some changes producing conditions never before experienced by human civilizations. How fast and in what directions legal change might evolve under this “no-analog” future is difficult to say at this time given the uncertainty surrounding the pace and course of climate change, but many climate change scenarios have in common a number of projected impacts relevant to law. Obvious legal pressure points stemming from such impacts include rising sea levels, which will present questions of property ownership and protection along the coast, and shifting precipitation and snowmelt patterns, which will put further strain on water rights doctrine. Indeed, adaptation to these and other climate change impacts will likely spawn its own set of legal issues, as human migration and vast infusions of new infrastructure could trigger disputes over land use, environmental, and civil rights policies. Suffice it to say that it is difficult to envision a world in which adapting to climate change does not in some significant ways require the attention of legal institutions and adjustments to legislation, regulations, and common law doctrine. (more…)

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