A Definition for ‘Resilience’

Is this just another trendy term to keep things fresh, or does it go deeper? Environmentally Friendly, Eco-, Sustainable, and now ‘Resilience’?

I’ve heard the term resilience used more and more frequently of late, but because people seem to use the term in so many different contexts I was getting more confused about what I thought it meant. To be specific, we’re talking about Climate Resilience – resilience in the ecological context has been well defined long ago, but it’s our adoption of this word into the ‘sustainability’ field that’s had me curious.

So naturally I hit the interweb and got some answers. I visited a bunch of sites and quickly got a picture of what climate resilience captures, and specifically how it differs from sustainability. The Rockerfeller Foundation White Paper gave me the most user-friendly presentation of what climate resilience is.

Here’s a summary;

  1. Climate Change Resilience [or Climate Resilience] – … is the ability to survive and recover from the effects of climate change… includes the ability to understand potential impacts and to take appropriate action before, during and after a particular consequence…
  2. Adaptation – [according to the IPCC] refers to individual actions required to respond to climate change, whereas;
  3. Resilience refers to the capacity over time to implement multiple adaptive actions, i.e. it’s more holistic, complicated, comprehensive and positive;
  4. Climate change resilience requires the following elements;
    • Flexibility
    • A multi-faceted skill set
    • Redundancy
    • Collaborative multi-sector approaches
    • Planning and foresight
    • Diversity and decentralisation
    • Plans for failure

Note the bit about taking action ‘before, during and after’ an event… meaning resilience still includes the sustainability aspect of working towards a cleaner and more prosperous future.

climate resilience

Climate Resilience Lab is one example of ‘resilient’ language and approaches.

In my own words and in comparison to ‘sustainability’, resilience acknowledges that climate change is already upon us and that what we think of as sustainability also needs to incorporate disaster planning and response, population-scale impacts and shifts, and resilient economic planning.

Whilst the word itself might suggest that we’re now in ‘adapt or perish’ phase, resilience is about positive change, sustainability and progress… it’s like sustainability all grown up and serious.


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