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2015: a pivotal year for creating a resilient society

Maria Noguer is lead educator on the University of Reading’s free online course “Our Changing Climate: Past, Present and Future“. Here, she discusses how three international agreements signed this year could help us create a society that’s more resilient to environmental, economic and social changes.

African women carrying baskets of food on their heads
Image © The Marshal Papworth Fund.

2015 is a year when the world’s governments sign three major international agreements on three key challenges facing society today:

  1. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (SFDRR), which was adopted in March 2015, aims to achieve “the substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health, and in the economic, physical, social, cultural and environmental assets of persons, business, communities and countries”.
  2. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in September 2015, give us a plan of action for people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership, and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development (the economic, the social and the environmental).
  3. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to be agreed in December 2015 in Paris, aims to achieve a legally-binding and universal agreement, which will provide a framework for transition towards low-carbon societies and economies that are able to withstand climate change.

Given that each of these agreements has its own aims and goals, the key question is: how do we lift the most vulnerable people from poverty to prosperity with secure livelihoods that are resilient to climate change, extreme weather events, and other environmental, economic and social changes?

How do we define resilience?

These frameworks will put us on a path towards achieving a more resilient society. But what is the definition of a resilient society? What do these frameworks have in common? Will they all be going in the same direction or will we end up implementing policies for one that make the situation worse for the others? How can society flourish within its own limits?

There is a danger that, after 2015, these three global processes will diverge and follow their own routes without considering each topic under the common theme of “a resilient society”. Better cooperation and synergies across disaster risk reduction, the sustainable development goals and climate change, will bring joint policy initiatives that will be more effective in enhancing resilience.

How can we coordinate and communicate?

These agreements are a milestone towards a resilient society but they will only have laid the foundations for what happens next. Countries are asking for more scientific evidence, more technical capacity and more coordination of existing networks. It is therefore essential to develop research that builds bridges between disaster risk reduction, sustainable development and climate change.

At the same time, this new science needs to reach and engage with actors beyond the research to enhance its benefits, so communication is also a key component

Moving beyond 2015 requires that these three major agreements, and the polices they will encourage, work effectively together. Building resilience for prosperity is a concept that can unify and align these separate but vital agendas.

How can we adapt, anticipate and absorb?

Resilience is the ability to absorb shocks and continue to function and might, ultimately, come down to three things: the ability to adapt to change, anticipate what might happen next and absorb shocks when they do come along. This is what is known as the 3As framework under BRACED – the Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters initiative, funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

The UN Secretary General is also pushing for Climate Resilience under a proposed anticipate, absorb and reshape (A2R) framework:

“It is time for global action on resilience and disaster risk reduction that not only anticipates and absorbs climate risks, but also reshapes them into an opportunity for safer, sustainable development.”
– Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General, June 2015

To achieve a “resilient society” then, adaptation, anticipation and absorption, together with coordination, communication and cooperation, seem to be the key words. And, ultimately, they will reshape challenges into opportunities.

To find out more about the actions we should be taking to address the challenges surrounding global resilience, join the free online course “Our Changing Climate; Past, Present and Future“.

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