July 31, 2012

New White Paper: How Should Government Facilitate Climate Change Adaptation Efforts in the Private Sector?

Today CPR releases a new briefing paper exploring how the government can encourage, facilitate, and even demand actions from the different parts of the private sector to adapt to the changing climate. The paper is based on ideas discussed at a workshop CPR co-sponsored earlier this year at the University of North Carolina School of Law, which brought together academics, non-profit and business representatives, and government officials to wrestle with how government might positively shape the private sector response to the effects of climate change. Today’s briefing paper, Climate Change Adaptation: The Impact of Law on Adaptation in the Private Sector, was written by CPR Member Scholar Victor Flatt and myself.

Adapting to the impacts of climate change (not to be confused with the related pressing need to mitigate greenhouse gas releases) requires strategic planning and comprehensive action by both the public and private sectors, and each sector influences the other.  For example, the private sector generates the overwhelming majority of economic output in the United States and is regulated for health, safety, and environmental purpose by the government. Land ownership is also largely private: roughly 70 percent of the land in the United States is held privately, and the government owns the remaining 30 percent. Effective climate change adaptation cannot happen without the cooperation of both sectors.

The workshop participants focused on adaptation that is influenced, motivated, or in certain cases prevented or constrained by the government, through laws, regulations, incentives, and policies with direct or indirect affects. For example, the timing of government actions, how the government balances between consistency and flexibility, and whether the government compensates the private sector can all affect how this sector responds to climate change.

The workshop participants ultimately developed a list of principles and outcomes for the government’s role in facilitating private sector adaptation.  The list below summarizes some of the recommended principles that the federal government should consider in facilitating adaptation:

  • Manage change in a way that contributes to or does not undermine institutional resilience.
  • Minimize negative externalities from private sector adaptation actions.
  • Facilitate adaptation actions that are efficient, cost-effective, and politically viable.
  • Ensure that as it acts to facilitate adaptation it does not undermine mitigation efforts.
  • Identify leverage points within the private sector to maximize the reach of its influence.
  • Be sensitive to cultural and social values, including the importance of time and place to communities, and strive for equitable outcomes.
  • Facilitate interactions and coordination that capitalize on social forces.

Workshop participants also discussed how insurance law and laws affecting the built environment can facilitate adaptation, as well as how privately held natural resources—agricultural land, forests, aquaculture operations—and other resources can adapt to climate change impacts.

The workshop was sponsored by the Center for Law, Environment, Adaptation, and Resources (CLEAR) at the University of North Carolina; the Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment at the University of California Los Angeles; Georgetown Climate Center; The George Washington University Law School; Vanderbilt Climate Change Research Network, and CPR.

Yee Huang, Policy Analyst, Center for Progressive Reform. Bio.

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