As the impacts of climate change have begun to appear, environmentalists and concerned policymakers have shifted away from the rhetoric of sustainability and recentered environmental concerns around the ideas of adaptation and resilience. Whereas ideas like sustainability and conservation focus on preserving a pristine world, resilience and adaptation focus on protecting people and ecosystems from the changes that are brought by a changing climate. This shift has occurred as individuals, communities, cities and regions have come to recognize the need to consider and prepare for the risks posed to their quality of life, infrastructure and physical safety by global warming.

More frequent and intense storms, greater flooding, sea level rise, altered seasons, longer droughts, and larger wildfires—all effects of climate change that we are seeing today—necessitate policy changes and investment into infrastructure designed to protect communities, cities, and natural systems from the impacts of a changing climate. Investment into resilience can align with sustainable development goals, improving quality of life, stimulating the economy, and protecting the environment while safeguarding areas against the onset of climate change.

Resilience is the ability of a system to absorb, withstand and bounce back after an adverse event. In the environmental context, it is the collection of policy, infrastructure, services, transportation, energy infrastructure, and planning that position municipalities to resist natural disasters and other dangerous impacts of climate change. Resilience planning should take into consideration:

  • Providing continuous access to essential services: energy, food, water, shelter, healthcare and transportation
  • Sustaining the functionality of modern systems and infrastructure
  • Maintaining the livability and comfort of systems which support modern lifestyles
  • Supporting populations which may be especially vulnerable – such as low income and aging populations
  • Planning land-use, system, and infrastructure strategies with the environment and natural forces in mind
  • Ensuring safety through improved emergency preparedness and strong communication between relevant agencies and first-responders
  • Offering diverse transportation and access options
  • Building structures and systems which are sustainable, flexible and durable

Resilience supports sustainable development and the construction of better, more durable systems. It leads to investment into jobs and infrastructure, meaning that it can provide valuable uplift to economies. Planning communities with resilience in mind enables settlements to better plan, adapt, and thrive in the face of a changing climate. Because of that, ideas around resilience are finding their way into policies and designs by agencies like FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers. And for the communities that are most vulnerable to natural disasters, planning for resilience can prevent displacement, devastating financial losses, and fatalities.


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