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Building Resilience to the Shocks and Stresses of Climate Change

This post originally appeared on JustMeans.

Earth from Space

The year ahead is a critical one for the planet’s climate and our collective future. In December 2015, countries will come together in Paris to finalize a global treaty that could set us on a path toward capping and eventually reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There is momentum with the recent agreement between the United States and China. More commitments are needed, but we also need to change our approaches to climate change and other stresses.

The effects of climate change are already visible around us. Extreme weather events are occurring with increasing magnitude and frequency across the planet. Destructive typhoons, hurricanes, droughts and flooding are impacting millions of lives, hindering growth and development, and exacerbating poverty—particularly among low-income populations. The most vulnerable populations are those that lack the resources to prepare for and respond to these acute shocks and chronic stresses.

As leaders gather in Lima, we urge them to think beyond the contentious dichotomy of mitigation and adaptation and instead focus on building resilience. Our future well-being depends on the resilience of our communities, cities and ecosystems, and resilience provides a critical point of integration for adaptation and mitigation strategies. Building resilience is about the smart actions we can take now so that the impact of inevitable shocks and stresses are minimized and the rebound accelerated.

It also makes good financial sense. The collective cost of climate change disasters is estimated at $200 billion every year. That’s equal to the Gross Domestic Product of Peru, where the talks are taking place. Investing in resilience now can help avoid the devastating financial costs of natural disasters—while making day-to-day life better for everyone.

“It costs 50 percent more to rebuild in the wake of a disaster than to build in a way that can withstand the shock.”

We call this the resilience dividend. Indeed, building resilience delivers near-term economic benefits and jobs, while making everyone better prepared when a shock hits. And make no mistake: there may be up front costs to get this done, but you will save money later: It costs 50 percent more to rebuild in the wake of a disaster than to build in a way that can withstand the shock.

Taking a resilience-building approach is critical, because the impact of climate change will go far beyond extreme weather events and dramatic shifts in human development. Additionally, there are more subtle, continuous stresses that will have ripple effects that degrade ecosystems and their vital service flows, impact regional food and water supplies, create health crises, disable infrastructure and even contribute to political and economic instability. The political and economic risks posed by a changing climate are a global issue and will be especially challenging in places where institutions are poorly equipped to manage change.

While a successful global agreement to address the causes and effects of climate change is needed, locally led and inclusive efforts are also critically important now. Resilience requires partnerships. Governments, the private sector, academia and civil society all have a role to play and can contribute efforts—and expertise—to a resilience agenda. Resilience cannot be built by one sector alone.

To encourage this type of collaboration and learning exchange, The Rockefeller Foundation, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) have convened and are funding the Global Resilience Partnership. This is a new model which aims to address the toughest resilience challenges facing vulnerable populations in three regions where the frequency and magnitude of shocks and stresses are already acute and continue to rise: the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and South and Southeast Asia.

A forward looking resilience approach, as the Resilience Partnership advocates, is a key to success in the face of climate change and other shocks and stresses—and one that we hope will be top-of-mind to those gathering in Lima.

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