To successfully respond to climate change impacts, it is imperative that governments structure adaptation laws and policies around their country’s existing legal framework. The United States (US), China, and Australia have all made adaptation attempts through legislative, executive, and judicial action. However, because the systems of law and governance of the three countries differ, the ways in which adaptation issues are managed vary. State and local adaptation planning functions as the leading adaptation pathway in the US, whereas in Australia judicial intervention is more influential than executive action. By contrast, China relies primarily on policy to manage adaptation issues. This article argues that the differences in adaptation responses are the result of a complex combination of factors, which include climate politics and awareness of adaptation, the status of environmental principles, and the role of the judiciary. This analysis helps in identifying the opportunities and barriers associated with different adaptation solutions, and also contributes to cross-jurisdictional learning.