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Building Climate Change Resilience in Cities: The Private Sector’s Role

I n 2013, in the city of Tacloban in the Philippines, business owners started shutting shop after desperate survivors of Typhoon Haiyan turned to looting. As the storm’s aftermath illustrates, a single urban disaster can spark many others, from crime to profound economic loss. But by developing proactive plans that involve all affected parties rather than tackling isolated risks such as possible power outages, cities can survive and emerge stronger from shocks and stresses.

Some call this the “resilience dividend”—a field that The Rockefeller Foundation has explored extensively in its research—or creating unforeseen opportunities, rather than disruption, through collective, proactive preparation and responses. The long-term benefits of the resilience dividend might include better job prospects, economic opportunity, social cohesion or equity.

Cities are extremely complex ecosystems. Physical assets such as offices, hospitals, schools and transit systems are often concentrated in small spaces and interact with large and diverse populations, including commuters, tourists and residents. This density can intensify the impact of storms, floods, disease outbreaks and other events—and their costs.

Indeed, economic losses alone from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters are costly, both financially and in human terms. In 2013, these events totaled about $140 billion, according to global reinsurer Swiss Re. But even one major disaster impacting a large urban center can create disproportionately high costs and economic devastation. The 2011 flooding around Bangkok, Thailand, for instance, generated $47 billion in economic losses in a short time.

And across New York and New Jersey, post–Hurricane Sandy’s larger costs ranged from damaged business structures and equipment, to lost production from power cuts, to workers’ inability to commute and subsequent income reductions or job losses. Roughly 10,000 manufacturing facilities were forced to close after the hurricane. Travel and tourism ventures also suffered: in Atlantic City, New Jersey, casinos alone reported some $5 million in daily losses.