IPCC – Conceptualizing Disaster Risk Management and Climate Change Adaptation

From the 2012 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX), Summary for Policymakers:


Key terms as defined by the IPCC:

  • Exposure: The presence of people; livelihoods; environmental services and resources; infrastructure; or economic, social, or cultural assets in places that could be adversely affected.
  • Vulnerability: The propensity or predisposition to be adversely affected.
  • Disaster Risk Management: Processes for designing, implementing, and evaluating strategies, policies, and measures to improve the understanding of disaster risk, foster disaster risk reduction and transfer, and promote continuous improvement in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery practices, with the explicit purpose of increasing human security, well-being, quality of life, resilience, and sustainable development.
  • Climate Change Adaptation: In human systems, the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects, in order to moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. In natural systems, the process of adjustment to actual climate and its effects; human intervention may facilitate adjustment to expected climate.

Chapter 8, “Toward a Sustainable and Resilient Future” addresses the relationship of disaster risk management and climate change adaptation to sustainable development and resilience. Contents include:

  • Executive Summary
  • 8.1. Introduction
  • 8.2. Disaster Risk Management as Adaptation: Relationship to Sustainable Development Planning
  • 8.3. Integration of Short- and Long-Term Responses to Extremes
  • 8.4. Implications for Access to Resources, Equity, and Sustainable Development
  • 8.5. Interactions among Disaster Risk Management, Adaptation to Climate Change Extremes, and Mitigation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • 8.6. Options for Proactive, Long-Term Resilience to Future Climate Extremes
  • 8.7. Synergies between Disaster Risk Management and Climate Change Adaptation for a Resilient and Sustainable Future
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Watching Language Change

The word resilience (as a Google search term, see graphs below) overtook sustainable development about five years ago in the United States (somewhat more recently in the English-searching world at large). Sustainable development and sustainability (as terms in books indexed in Google Ngram) were running neck-and-neck in the early 1990s but began diverging somewhere between the mid-1990s (Ngram) and mid-2000s (Google trends). Sustainability now dominates, sustainable development may be on the way out, and resilience might be stealing market share from them both.

This apparent unhitching of sustainable from development (and rise of sustainability) correlates with Robert Engleman’s description (State of the World 2013, chapter 1) of the rise of what he calls “sustainababble”:

For many years after the release of the Brundtland Commission’s report [in 1987], environmental analysts debated the value of such complex terms as sustainable, sustainability, and sustainable development. By the turn of the millennium, however, the terms gained a life of their own—with no assurance that this was based on the Commission’s definition. Through increasingly frequent vernacular use, it seemed, the word sustainable became a synonym for the equally vague and unquantifiable adjective green, suggesting some undefined environmental value, as in green growth or green jobs.

Google Trends

  • sustainability
  • sustainable development
  • resilience

Worldwide, 2004 – May 2013img gtrends ww

United States, 2004 – May 2013img gtrends us

Google Ngram (books, English), 1980 – 2008img gngram

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International Framework – ISDR, Hyogo, GDPRR and GAR 2013

The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), launched in 2000, provides a framework to coordinate actions to address disaster risks at the local, national, regional and international levels. The Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015 (HFA), endorsed by 168 UN member states at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction in Kobe, Japan in 2005, urges all countries to make major efforts to reduce their disaster risk by 2015.

The Global Platform for Disaster Reduction (GPDRR) is an information exchange forum organized by UNISDR, the UN’s office for disaster risk reduction and secretariat of the ISDR. The fourth biennial meetings opened today in Geneva, supported by the third global assessment report (GAR 2013): From Shared Risk to Shared Value –The Business Case for Disaster Risk Reduction. View GAR 2013 and the preceding two global assessment reports (GAR 2011: Revealing Risk, Redefining Development, and GAR 2009: Risk and Poverty in a Changing Climate) here.

This quote comes from the introduction to Chapter 8, Urbanizing Risk:

More investment in infrastructure and the built environment will be required over the next 40 years than has occurred over the last 4 millennia. How disaster risk is addressed in the construction and real estate development sectors is therefore going to shape the future of disaster risk reduction. Where investments in urban development generate new risks or exacerbate existing ones, the cost of disasters is often spread across communities and sectors. These shared costs are not well accounted for and responsibilities are not well defined. A number of disincentives work against businesses investing in reducing disaster risk in urban development, including the promise of high profit from speculative investment and ineffective public regulation.

The contents include:

  • Chapter 1 – Introduction: Risky Business
  • Part I  – The Globalised Landscape of Disaster Risk
  • Chapter 2 – The Hidden Risks of Economic Globalisation
  • Chapter 3 – Intensive Riskscapes
  • Chapter 4 – Invisible Risks
  • Chapter 5 – The Resilience Challenge
  • Chapter 6 – Natural Capital Risk
  • Chapter 7 – Small Islands, Big Opportunities
  • Part II  Private Investment and Disaster Risk
  • Chapter 8 – Urbanising Risk
  • Chapter 9 – Hazardous Leisure
  • Chapter 10 – No Free Lunch: Agribusiness and Risks to Food Security
  • Part III  Business Strategies and Risk Governance
  • Chapter 11 – From Managing Disasters to Managing Risks
  • Chapter 12 – Risk Blind Investment
  • Chapter 13 – Securing Investment:  Insurance Revisited
  • Chapter 14 – Risk Governance:  In Search of the Missing Paradigm
  • Chapter 15 – Anticipating Risk
  • Chapter 16 – Conclusion: From Shared Risk to Shared Value
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Bouncing Forward – Cara Pike Blogs on CCB 2013

In a recent blog post, Cara Pike, director of the Social Capital Project of the Resource Innovation Group, provides an overview of some of the discussion topics at Garrison Institute’s March 2013 Climate, Cities, and Behavior Symposium on “Human Dimensions of Resilient and Sustainable Cities.”

In a reworking of the “bouncing back” aspect of resilience (the word comes from the Latin resilire, meaning to rebound or recoil), she raises the idea of bouncing forward:

At the crux of this conflict is the idea that resiliency is about resuming an original form, a bouncing back to what was. This fails to recognize that the status quo wasn’t working in the first place as we were already on an unsustainable and inequitable path. The desire to return to normal in the wake of a disturbance is understandable, however, what is needed is a “bouncing forward” to new approaches that tackle both the reality of a two-degree Celsius temperature increase as well as the systemic injustices that threaten the well-being of citizens who often also face some of the worst climate impacts.

This recognizes the phenomenon of “resilience to be fought” (raised, for example, by Hugh Deeming), as well as the interplay of persistence and transformation in Carpenter and Brock’s description of resilience.

The full set of videos and presentation slides available from the Garrison symposium can be found here. They include the following talks and others:

  • Mindy Fullilove, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University – Disaster in the Context of Unmitigated Disaster
  • Bob Doppelt, Executive Director of the Resource Innovation Group – Sustainability and Resilience Require A Shift From ‘Me to We’
  • Missy Stults, doctoral student at University of Michigan – Fostering Resilience: From Theory to Operation
  • Cassie Flynn, Co-founder of IOBY – Citizen-Led Innovation for Stronger, More Sustainable Neighborhoods
  • Joann Jordan, Public Education Coordinator for Seattle Office of Emergency Management – Disaster Preparedness as a Catalyst for Building Community…Before it happens!
  • Jennifer Hirsch, an applied anthropologist and community development consultant – Forging City-Community Partnerships for Climate Action – Lessons from the Social Sciences and Chicago
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The Paradox of Transformation and Persistence

In the introduction to their 2008 Ecology and Society article “Adaptive Capacity and Traps,” Stephen Carpenter and William Brock offer this nuanced description of resilience:

How do transformation and persistence coexist in living systems? This paradox is addressed by the concept of resilience (Holling 1973, Folke 2006). Resilience is not about an equilibrium of transformation and persistence. Instead, it explains how transformation and persistence work together, allowing living systems to assimilate disturbance, innovation, and change, while at the same time maintaining characteristic structures and processes (Westley et al. 2006).

Resilience is a broad, multifaceted, and loosely organized cluster of concepts, each one related to some aspect of the interplay of transformation and persistence. Thus, resilience does not come down to a single testable theory or hypothesis. Instead it is a changing constellation of ideas, some of which are testable through the usual practices of natural or social science. Although particular ideas may be rejected or supported, the program of research on resilience itself is evaluated in a different way. As long as resilience thinking produces interesting research ideas, people are likely to pursue it. When it seems empty of ideas, it will be abandoned or transformed into something else.

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The Missing Middle in Our Future

Interesting comments this morning from science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson (morning panel 6, about 00:01:20 in) as part of the launch of WorldWatch’s book State of the World 2013: Is Sustainability Still Possible? Addressing the question “Is it too late?” (the title of his closing essay in the book), he says our future has two possible directions – dystopia and utopia. He notes, “we’re at a moment of extremely high danger” but also that we’re a technologically advanced species with a fairly flexible and adaptable culture in which changes have happened rapidly several times in the past. Either way, he states: “It’s no longer possible to imagine muddling forward in an ordinary way … there is a missing middle in our imagination of the future.”

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Bracing for Impact: Bay Area Vulnerabilities and Preparedness

Two interesting recent podcasts (here or on iTunes) from the Commonwealth Club’s Climate One series. The first provides a feel for what the early stages of climate adaptation planning sound like in a major Pacific coast metropolitan area in the United States.Capture

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Resilience: Google Trends

Resilience* as a Google search term in the United States, from Google Trends, 2004 – March 2013.


* Actual search term used: resilience -wow -warcraft. Why? Turns out resilience is a character attribute in World of Warcraft. The formula for the damage reduction provided by resilience was changed a few years ago, generating enough attention to noticeably inflate resilience search trends for a year or so. For the record: “Characters have no innate resilience. It can only be gained through external sources, e.g. equipment, elixirs, enchantments, and gems.”

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March 2013 Natural Hazards Observer on Clarifying Resilience


The March edition of the Natural Hazards Observer (download here), a bimonthly publication of the Natural Hazards Center at University of Colorado, Boulder, features comments from two resilience experts. A couple of notable quotes below.

Hugh Deeming, Scientific Technical Officer for the Building Resilience Amongst Communities in Europe (emBRACE) project differentiates resilience to be sought from resilience to be fought:

Ben Wisner (2004), coauthor of the influential At Risk, recently suggested … that resilience thinking requires us to consider an interesting dichotomy regarding “resilience to be sought” and “resilience to be fought.” Wisner’s point is that an aptitude for adaptation, adjustment, and recovery from stressor influences is not something that is purely confined to positive phenomena. Poverty appears, for example, to be highly resilient, as do despotic regimes. This raises an important warning flag for those who have moved so readily into the resilience camp. This dichotomy, between the “to be sought” aspirational resilience, which allows people to take informed and effective actions to mitigate threats, may not be easy to implement in the face of “to be fought” resilience, with its propensity toward persistence and its resistance to relinquishing dominion, or its own vested interests. (p. 14)

Dan Lewis, chief of UN-Habitat’s Risk Reduction Unit, provides useful background on the $8 million, 4-year City Resilience Profiling Project (CRPP), now in its initial phases (a short brochure about CRPP is here).

[T]here are now probably as many different definitions of resilience as there are people who can actually say the word. For OCHA—which is the [UN] Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs—their view on resilience is entirely driven by a food security agenda. I look at a huge network organization like ICLEI, which is a global network of local authorities, their entire concept of resilience is hitched to climate change.

… Other organizations, even countries, look at resilience from the point of view of critical infrastructure—energy, for example, or water—and will build a resilience agenda around protection of those resources. In the private sector, business continuity is the trunk of the resilience tree. But from a city point of view there does not exist any systemic approach to addressing resilience to multihazards, whether they’re economic hazards or whether they’re social hazards, whether they’re so-called natural hazards or whether they’re human-induced technological or industrial hazards. Nothing exists in my estimation that is robust enough to be a bit more sure of how resilient a town or a city or a megacity might be. (pp. 10-11)

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