Legal systems are often characterized as slow-moving and reactive. Key features of common law legal systems, such as the doctrine of precedent, assume incremental rather than transformational change. Yet legal systems are also expected to demonstrate agility and responsiveness in addressing emerging and unanticipated risks, such as the consequences of future climate change. This chapter explores the challenge of developing new laws to facilitate adaptation within common law legal systems. The legal frameworks for addressing sea level rise in Australia and New Zealand are used as case studies to identify barriers to effective implementation of adaptation policy through law and to highlight features of legal systems that facilitate adaptation. The chapter concludes with a brief reflection on adjustments that might enhance legal responses to climate change at the systemic level.
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