Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation

• The main causes of disasters are not natural.

• Disaster Risk Reduction helps reduce vulnerability and build resilience.

• Climate resilient development is a new approach to balance climate adaptation, mitigation, and disaster risk reduction.

Updated •
November 21, 2023
Photo: IslandHopper X / Pexels

Natural disasters are not natural

The term 'natural disaster' is misleading, as evidence shows that disasters mainly stem from social, political, economic, and cultural processes rather than purely natural causes. Climate change, driven by the actions of the world’s wealthier minority, escalates the frequency and intensity of hazardous events. Despite the urgent need for Climate Change Mitigation, Disaster Risk Reduction, and Climate Change Adaptation, political and economic interests often take precedence. To achieve sustainable development that addresses climate change and disaster management, the concepts of climate-resilient development and risk-informed development are proposed. Their success hinges on overcoming political obstacles and addressing the unsustainable nature of current development models.

Natural disasters are not natural

Natural disasters are not natural
Photo: WallpaperFlare

The term ‘natural disaster’ is often used to describe disasters and crises associated with so-called ‘natural hazards’ such as tropical cyclones, heavy rainfall events, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and of course viruses and diseases like COVID-19. However, several decades of disaster research have led many experts to argue that<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">labelling</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Mizutori, M. Time to say goodbye to “natural” disasters. PreventionWeb, 2020.</div></div></span>disasters as ‘natural’ is misleading and problematic. This is because<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">evidence</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction - Our World at Risk: Transforming Governance for a Resilient Future. 2022.</div></div></span>shows disasters are caused mostly by social, political, economic, and cultural processes, rather than natural ones. Originally a<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">radical idea</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>O'Keefe, P., Westgate, K. and Wisner, B. Taking the naturalness out of natural disasters. Nature, 1976.</div></div></span>, this understanding is now established across most international policy frameworks. This points to another question: how will disasters be affected by the changing climate we are experiencing as a result of increasing rates of fossil-fuel burning and carbon-sink removal, which have been and continue to be primarily driven by the wealthier minority of the world’s population? Whilst the question is in some ways a complex one, in fact, much of it can be answered by referring back to the consensus outlined above. That is, disasters will<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">continue to be caused</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Raju, E., Boyd, E. and Otto, F. Stop blaming the climate for disasters. Communications Earth & Environment, 2022.</div></div></span>mostly by social processes, even if climate change is also a key risk driver.

However, the IPCC have comprehensively<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">argued</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. 2023.</div></div></span>that on current trajectories, climate change impacts in some places will exceed the possibility of adaptation. Nonetheless, the explanations of those future scenarios are likely to conclude that their causes were rooted in decisions made in the present to not work towards rapidly reducing fossil fuel emissions. That is to say, the causes of future climate-related disasters will still be political rather than solely attributable to the non-human physical environment. The increase in intensity and frequency of many hazardous processes due to climate change is already visible, although mostly in specific locations for now. But ultimately, as the trend continues, the interconnected tasks of Climate Change Mitigation, Disaster Risk Reduction, and Climate Change Adaptation will become all the more urgent.

To achieve these interconnected tasks, many argue bringing all three under the banner of ‘sustainable development’ is needed. However, the term ‘development’ is itself controversial. It is largely inseparable from political and economic ideologies. Two aspects of the United Nations Development Programme’s basic definitions of<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">‘development’</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>United Nations. Concept of Development.</div></div></span>and<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">‘sustainable development’</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>United Nations. The Sustainable Development Agenda.</div></div></span>can be combined for this entry:

• Sustainable Development =<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>United Nations. Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. 1987.</div></div></span>;

• Development = ‘a multidimensional undertaking to achieve a higher quality of life for all people’.

When used in conjunction with climate change and disaster risk reduction, two main terms are circulating to label this overarching goal of integrating sustainable development with climate change and disaster management policy:<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">climate-resilient development</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Simpson, N. P. et al. Climate-resilient development planning for cities: progress from Cape Town. Urban Sustainability, 2023.</div></div></span>and<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">risk-informed development</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Opitz-Stapleton, S. et al. Risk-informed development: From crisis to resilience. United Nations Development Programme, 2019.</div></div></span>. Whilst each has subtle differences in emphasis, both broadly refer to an approach to development which balances the importance of climate change mitigation, climate change adaptation, and disaster risk reduction according to the particular context and issue at hand. This means policies would be harmonised to take all these objectives into consideration. Ultimately, though, these decisions are inherently political. Thus, very often, none of these three goals emerge as priorities. Rather, the political and economic interests of powerful actors often take priority. This tends to mean that attempts to address these problems usually revolve around small technical fixes. Policymakers do not fundamentally address the main issues at hand: the unsustainable nature of the type of development the continued pursuit of mostly economic interests gives rise to.


Disaster Risk Reduction

The Lisbon Earthquake of 1775 challenged a prevailing notion of disasters as "Acts of God," paving the way for a more scientific understanding of disasters as "Acts of Nature." Over time, disaster management evolved, acknowledging the influence of social, political, economic, and cultural factors on disasters. This led to the emergence of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) as an idea and policy agenda. DRR suggests policymakers focus on reducing vulnerability rather than just preparing for disasters, considering key elements like hazards, vulnerabilities, capacities, and the impacts of climate change. DRR should recognize the agency of affected populations and advocate for proactive policies to build resilience and reduce vulnerability.

Disaster Risk Reduction

Disaster Risk Reduction
Photo: UNDRR / Flickr

History of Disaster Management

Disaster scholars tend to trace the development of ‘disaster management’ as a policy aim and idea back to the Lisbon Earthquake of 1775. This devastating earthquake also triggered a tsunami and several fires in the city. It occurred during and indeed fed into a time of religious and political transformation in Europe. Notably, the earthquake provoked a shift in the way many perceived disasters. In Europe, the dominant theistic view of disasters as ‘Acts of God’ was suddenly challenged by a secular, scientific view of disasters as ‘Acts of Nature’. These competing framings reflected the philosophical debates of the Enlightenment. They also enlivened the power struggle between Church and State in Europe, especially in Portugal.

Historians of disasters argue that the Lisbon earthquake prompted the new secular government of Portugal to adopt policies we now recognise as relating to disaster risk reduction and disaster management (for example,<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">Russell Dynes</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Dynes, R. The Lisbon Earthquake in 1755: The First Modern Disaster. University of Delaware, 2003.</div></div></span>). This included enforcing building regulations and developing emergency plans. But crucially, it also<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">turned</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Alexander, D. C. Natural Disasters. Routledge, 1993.</div></div></span>disaster management into a key responsibility of the (national) government. This earthquake was not an isolated catastrophe, as proved by the outbreak of plague in Marseille, France, and famine in colonial Bengal. Based on these case studies, Bandhopadhay<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">argues</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Bandhopadhay, S. All Is Well: Catastrophe and the Making of the Normal State. Oxford University Press, 2018.</div></div></span>that the rise of disaster management as a way of thinking underpinned the formation of what we now recognise as ‘nation states’. To him, today's widely adopted government structures and responsibilities are the aftermath of this series of events. In this now recognisable arrangement of disaster management, the state assumes a role of manager and protector of its citizens against the dangers posed by an external ‘Nature’. This partly explains why the term ‘natural disasters’ has traditionally been used to label these types of events. Over the past two centuries, the techniques used to achieve disaster management have developed alongside advances in technology and infrastructure. Historically, this approach to disaster management has depended on perceptions of disasters as external threats to society which, although they cannot be prevented, can be anticipated and managed to an extent that the worst impacts can be mitigated. This approach remained dominant until at least the late 20th century. It was then that critiques began to emerge.

These critiques largely revolved around the idea that disasters were not natural. Rather, they were believed to be caused primarily by social, political, and economic processes. Or, more simply, that disasters reflect and reproduce an unsustainable approach to achieving social and economic development. The logic followed that, if different decisions on achieving development were taken, the risk of disaster could be reduced. From here, the term, research topic, and policy agenda ‘Disaster Risk Reduction’ emerged.

Key ideas and terminology in Disaster Risk Reduction

It is now generally agreed amongst disaster scholars that<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">disasters are not natural</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Chmutina, K. and von Meding, J. A Dilemma of Language: “Natural Disasters” in Academic Literature. International Journal of Disaster Risk Science, 2019.</div></div></span>. However, the statement ‘disasters are not natural’ does raise an important question:<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">if disasters are not natural, then what are they?</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>McGowran, P. and Donovan, A. Assemblage theory and disaster risk management. Progress in Human Geography, 2021.</div></div></span>The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR)<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">proposes</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>PreventionWeb. Terminology on Disaster Risk Reduction.</div></div></span>this definition as an answer:

A serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society at any scale due to hazardous events interacting with conditions of exposure, vulnerability and capacity, leading to one or more of the following: human, material, economic and environmental losses and impacts.

This definition is the<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">outcome</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Kelman, I. et al. Learning from the history of disaster vulnerability and resilience research and practice for climate change. Natural Hazards, 2016.</div></div></span>of several decades of academic work and research which has argued that disasters involve some kind of interaction between processes which are usually<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">categorised</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Kelman, I. Lost for Words Amongst Disaster Risk Science Vocabulary?. International Journal of Disaster Risk Science, 2018.</div></div></span>as either hazards, vulnerabilities, and capacities (sometimes called ‘resilience’). Let’s consider each of these in turn.

Climate Change and Hazards

A more in-depth overview of Climate Change is provided by the recent IPCC report on the<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">physical science basis for climate change</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. 2021.</div></div></span>. ‘The climate’ is different from ‘the weather’: the changes which we all experience on a daily basis. Climate is rather the ‘average’ of various measurements of the weather over an extended period of time and in relation to a specific area. So, it is often just defined as ‘average weather’. Temperature is of central importance to almost all changes in weather. Because of this, experts use existing and predicted changes in average temperature alongside other variables to build complex understandings of how changes in average temperature might affect the frequency and intensity of certain harmful types of weather events in certain places. Such events include rainfall, snow, wind, and other processes. These analyses are thus linking changes in temperature to expected trends in the average weather in certain places. However, whilst these analyses can<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">show strong correlations</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. 2021.</div></div></span>between changes in temperature and weather trends, experts<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">point out</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>King, A. D. Event attribution is not ready for a major role in loss and damage. Nature Climate Change, 2023. </div></div></span>that our ability to attribute specific weather events to climate change with very high degrees of certainty remains fairly limited. This means, for example, that it is difficult to say with certainty that a specific storm, heatwave or rainfall event was caused by climate change. However, it is possible to say with varying degrees of certainty that climate change is making some types of weather events in certain places more or less likely, more or less frequent, and more or less intense. From this information, it is then possible to deduce that a given extreme or dangerous weather event was made more likely by climate change.

In scholarly work on climate change and disasters, these potentially dangerous weather events are often labelled ‘hazards’. The UNDRR<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">defines</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>PreventionWeb. Terminology on Disaster Risk Reduction.</div></div></span>a hazard as:

A process, phenomenon or human activity that may cause loss of life, injury or other health impacts, property damage, social and economic disruption or environmental degradation.

UNDRR attempts to broadly categorise hazards. To do so, they use environmental, geophysical, biological, hydrometeorological, and technological criteria. A more comprehensive categorisation of hazards has recently been compiled by UNDRR in partnership with the International Science Council in their<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">Hazard definition and classification review</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. Hazard definition and classification review. International Science Council, 2020.</div></div></span>. A brief look at this report shows some of the complexities in categorising hazards and even determining differences between hazards and vulnerabilities. Each of these issues is linked to two recent ideas about how we should understand hazards:<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">multi-hazards</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Gill, J. C. and Malamud, B. D. Reviewing and visualizing the interactions of natural hazards. Reviews of Geophysics, 2014.</div></div></span>, and<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">socionatural</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>PreventionWeb. Hazard.</div></div></span>hazards.

The idea of multi-hazards suggests that no hazard ever occurs alone, but is always part of a longer and wider causal chain of hazardous processes. The idea of socionatural hazards suggests that hazards are not always caused just by non-human, physical processes. In fact, disaster scholars<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">have pointed out</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Donovan, A. Geopower: Reflections on the critical geography of disasters. Progress in Human Geography, 2016.</div></div></span>that the potential damage a hazard might cause is shaped by social processes. Such processes span fossil fuel-driven climate change, scientific understandings of hazards,<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">political decision-making</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Donovan, A. Experts in emergencies: A framework for understanding scientific advice in crisis contexts. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 2021.</div></div></span>about hazards and risks under uncertainty, and the<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">built environment</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Mustafa, D. The Production of an Urban Hazardscape in Pakistan: Modernity, Vulnerability, and the Range of Choice. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 2005.</div></div></span>. All of these processes stem from human decisions. For example, flood hazards might be made more or less hazardous by the management of river systems. The use (or non-use) of dams, river straightening infrastructure, or dredging will make a difference in that regard. The<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">historical context</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Vox. The disastrous redesign of Pakistan’s rivers. 2023.</div></div></span>of the 2021 floods in the Indus Basin, Pakistan, demonstrates these ideas well. As a result of river mismanagement, new approaches have been taken to flood management in rivers and their surroundings. Indeed, the 'hard' engineering approaches to river management, such as dams, have often been found to break down over time, increasing the risk of large-scale flood events. Instead, river and flood management policy is shifting its attention to<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">nature-based solutions</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. Nature-based Solutions for Disaster Risk Reduction. 2021.</div></div></span>that recognise flooding not just as a hazard but as a natural river process that brings many benefits, such as irrigation, increased soil fertility, and Another good example of a hazard that is often influenced by social processes is cyclones. Cyclones can be predicted and warnings provided on that basis.<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">India</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Walch, C. Adaptive governance in the developing world: disaster risk reduction in the State of Odisha, India. Climate and Development, 2019.</div></div></span>and<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">Bangladesh</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Eli, J. Cyclone Amphan: In Bangladesh, Preparedness Paid Off. American Red Cross, 2020.</div></div></span>have used this tool effectively to significantly reduce cyclone deaths in recent years. On the other hand, there is also<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">evidence</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Weather and Climate Extreme Events in a Changing Climate. 2021.</div></div></span>to suggest that human-driven climate change is making more intense cyclones more frequent.

For the purposes of this overview, it is important to also point out that many hazards<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">will not be affected significantly</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Kelman, I., Gaillard, J. C. and Mercer, J. Climate Change’s Role in Disaster Risk Reduction’s Future: Beyond Vulnerability and Resilience. International Journal of Disaster Risk Science, 2015.</div></div></span>by climate change. The most obvious examples are hazards associated with the movement of tectonic plates. These notably include earthquakes and volcanoes. This fact could be taken to mean there is no need to consider climate change as a factor when developing disaster risk reduction policy for earthquakes and volcanoes. However, some contexts demand that climate change is considered in such decisions. For example, when building a dam to reduce reliance on fossil fuels in an area prone to earthquakes, climate change ought to be considered. It is also worth considering that climate change may reduce the frequency of impacts or the extent of hazards in some places. Examples might include extreme cold weather in some areas or the risk of flooding in others. A<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">tool</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Dale, B. and Stylianou, N. What will climate change look like near me?. BBC News, 2022.</div></div></span>, co-produced by the UK Met Office and the BBC, illustrates how these variations exist not only internationally, but also within countries - in this case, the UK. Acknowledging these complexities has prompted some disaster scholars to<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">question</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Donovan, A. Geopower: Reflections on the critical geography of disasters. Progress in Human Geography, 2016.</div></div></span>the importance of categorising hazards as social or natural, or as totally separate from vulnerabilities.

Vulnerabilities and the social side of disasters

The UNDRR<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">defines</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>PreventionWeb. Terminology on Disaster Risk Reduction.</div></div></span>vulnerabilities as:

The conditions determined by physical, social, economic and environmental factors or processes which increase the susceptibility of an individual, a community, assets or systems to the impacts of hazards.

The idea of vulnerability in disasters directs attention to how physical, social, political, economic, and cultural processes put people in harm’s way. Being vulnerable, in that sense, would mean having a higher probability of being harmed by a potential disaster due to these processes. The development of theories of vulnerability is also largely responsible for the shift in thinking about the ‘naturalness’ of disasters. One of the most influential theories was the book<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">At Risk II: Natural Hazards, People’s Vulnerability and Disaster</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Blaikie, P. et al. At Risk: Natural Hazards, People's Vulnerability and Disasters. Routledge, 2004.</div></div></span>, first published in 1994. The most well-known part of the book is the Pressure and Release Model, which tries to illustrate how disasters happen. Its overall argument is that if vulnerability is the ‘root cause’ of disasters, reducing vulnerability should be the main goal of ‘Disaster Risk Reduction’.

The 1976 earthquake in Guatemala, studied in At Risk II, and a whole host of other cases, showed a strong correlation between disaster impacts and socioeconomic class.  This research feeds into left-wing, Marxist-inspired conceptual frameworks. It<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">found</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Pelling, M. The Vulnerability of Cities: Natural Disasters and Social Resilience. Routledge, 2003.</div></div></span>that poorer people are often more exposed to the impacts of hazards and usually less able to deal with the long-term impacts than those of a higher socioeconomic class. All in all, this theory describes reality as follows: the poorer you are, the more vulnerable you are to potential disasters.

This theory has reinforced the assumption that poorer and marginalised people are often forced to live in places which are more exposed to the impacts of hazards because they cannot afford to live elsewhere. This might be along a river prone to flooding or on a steep slope prone to landslides. An extreme but clear example of these drivers of vulnerability would be Rohingya refugees<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">living in overcrowded camps</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Zaman, S. et al. Disaster risk reduction in conflict contexts: Lessons learned from the lived experiences of Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 2020.</div></div></span>which are exposed to cyclones, floods, and landslides as well as a host of health and sanitation issues. Beyond the role of socially and politically constructed poverty,<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">research</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. World Disasters Report 2014.</div></div></span>has also suggested that people might choose to live in such places on purpose. Indeed, these poor populations may have determined that the benefits of doing so outweigh the potential risk of disaster. They may have economic and cultural advantages in settling in such<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">areas</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. World Disasters Report 2014.</div></div></span>. Scholars of gender and disasters would also point out that the experience of vulnerability is not the same for men, women, and other gender identities. The same issue of different experiences of<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">social vulnerability to natural hazards</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Cutter, S. L., Boruff, B. J. and Shirley, W. L. Social vulnerability to environmental hazards. Hazards vulnerability and environmental justice. Routledge, 2012.</div></div></span>can be made for<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">other groups who are marginalised</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Thomas, D. S. K. et al. Social Vulnerability to Disasters. Routledge, 2013.</div></div></span>for non-economic reasons. Skin colour, religious belief, age, ability, and other variables can affect their vulnerability. Because of these complexities, most scholars<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">agree</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Bankoff, G. and Hilhorst, D. Why Vulnerability Still Matters: The Politics of Disaster Risk Creation. Routledge, 2022.</div></div></span>that although vulnerability is often closely tied to socioeconomic class, it is also always tied to context, culture, and other shifting social relations.

Despite its importance to the field, some scholars are<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">critical of the idea of vulnerability</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Bankoff, G. and Hilhorst, D. Why Vulnerability Still Matters: The Politics of Disaster Risk Creation. Routledge, 2022.</div></div></span>. Many have argued that a focus on vulnerability is too negative and tends to frame disaster victims as inferior or helpless. For scholar Greg Bankoff, such a framing even<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">reflects a colonial worldview</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Bankoff, G. Rendering the World Unsafe: ‘Vulnerability’ as Western Discourse. Disasters, 2022.</div></div></span>. As a result, it has been argued that it is very important to think about people’s capacities to deal with the processes that make them vulnerable, and to understand and deal with hazards. Such a shift in perception would mean that exposed populations would no longer be passive victims. Instead, they would actively prepare for and respond to crises.

Capacities and resilience

The UNDRR<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">defines</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>PreventionWeb. Terminology on Disaster Risk Reduction.</div></div></span>capacity as:

The combination of all the strengths, attributes and resources available within an organization, community or society to manage and reduce disaster risks and strengthen resilience.

The development of theories of capacities, as they relate to disasters, emerged to provide a more optimistic view of the ‘social’ aspects of disasters. Some scholars<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">argue</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Manyena, S. B. The concept of resilience revisited. Disasters, 2006.</div></div></span>it is essential to not only focus on how people are put at risk by processes beyond their control, but rather to think about how they might work against these forces to reduce the risks they face. This is important not only because it corrects the view that people vulnerable to the impacts of disasters are helpless or without agency. It also matters because such a focus can inform proactive policy and practices. The end result would then be<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">more ways</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Twigg, J. Characteristics of a Disaster-resilient Community. Department for International Development, 2007.</div></div></span>to ‘build’ capacity and resilience and ‘reduce’ vulnerability.

Governments, communities, and individuals all hold the capacity to prevent the possibility of disaster. For example, they can create and enforce building regulations to prevent building collapse during earthquakes. They may also work on clearing drains in advance of the monsoon season to reduce flood and landslide risk. However, scholars have consistently<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">pointed out</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Klein, R. J. T., Nicholls, R. J. and Thomalla, F. Resilience to natural hazards: How useful is this concept?. Environmental Hazards, 2003.</div></div></span>that thinking of capacity as the inverse of vulnerability is an oversimplification. In the real world, people usually have the capacity and resilience to deal with disasters. This is the case even though they live in conditions of vulnerability due to processes beyond their control. Gemma Sou’s recent work on the impacts of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico is a useful demonstration of this idea - visualised in a<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">graphic novel</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute. After Maria: Everyday Recovery From Disaster. University of Manchester, 2019.</div></div></span>. Sou<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">reframes resilience</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Sou, G. Reframing resilience as resistance: Situating disaster recovery within colonialism. The Geographical Journal, 2021.</div></div></span>not just as the ability to deal with the impacts of the disaster, but also to resist and deal with other forces, i.e. the neo-colonial attitude of the United States towards Puerto Rico. This nuance is important. It reinforces the idea that people affected by disasters are not inherently ‘vulnerable’ but rather creative, strong, and cooperative. This re-framing of resilience directs attention to the political, economic, and cultural processes that have and continue to marginalise them before, during, and after disastrous events and processes. Overall, it is vital to consider both capacities and vulnerabilities as<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">distinct but interconnected issues</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Weichselgartner, J. and Kelman, I. Geographies of resilience: Challenges and opportunities of a descriptive concept. Progress in Human Geography, 2014.</div></div></span>which are always dependent on the hazards and contexts in question. This fundamental understanding of disasters is<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">not changed significantly</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Kelman, I., Gaillard, J. C. and Mercer, J. Climate Change’s Role in Disaster Risk Reduction’s Future: Beyond Vulnerability and Resilience. International Journal of Disaster Risk Science, 2015.</div></div></span>by integrating climate change into the conversation.


Climate Change and (Un)Sustainable Development

Our understanding of climate change can be traced back to 19th-century scientists like Tyndall and Arrhenius. In parallel, colonial engagement with the tropical world in the 18th century increased awareness of human activities' impact on the environment, but often imposed European views. The separation of nature and society shaped mainstream environmental policy ideas, while the rise of capitalist development, driven by natural resource exploitation, made the impacts of so-called "natural disasters" worse. European countries and the United States, historically major carbon emitters, have had important impacts worldwide due to colonial legacies and exploitation, leading to calls for compensation mechanisms. These “Loss & Damage” mechanisms have had limited success so far.

Climate Change and (Un)Sustainable Development

Climate Change and (Un)Sustainable Development
Photo: Research Gate

Svante Arrhenius is often credited with being the first to show that atmospheric carbon dioxide affects the Earth’s surface temperature in 1896. But the Swedish scientist had built his discovery on existing work. Specifically, work on atmospheric composition and the ‘greenhouse effect’ theory developed by John Tyndall around 1859 provided a strong basis for his research. But even this work was built on top of earlier scientific work. Eventually, our more mainstream and contemporary understanding of climate change became fully developed during the 1960s and 1970s (see the IPCC’s<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">overview of the history of climate science</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Historical Overview of Climate Change Science.</div></div></span>for more).

Historians of colonialism trace a basic understanding of climate change back to the 18th century. At that time, colonial engagement with the tropical world involved the environment. This led to a growing awareness of the impact of human activities on the climate or the environment. Historian Richard Grove<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">comprehensively argued</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Grove, R. H. Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600–1860. Cambridge University Press, 1996.</div></div></span>that fears about the environmental impact of colonial development actually underpinned the rise of colonialist conservation movements. Several 'conservation areas', 'national parks' and 'reserved forests' were created across European empires as a result. These conservation movements imposed European perceptions of Nature on these new territories. This was done at the expense of local worldviews, which often did not separate 'people' from 'Nature'.

Thus, interventions to remove people from what the Europeans perceived to be natural ecosystems vulnerable to the exploits of ‘humans’ contradicted indigenous beliefs and practices. Many populations were excluded from their natural environment, because of European perceptions. In practice, this led to thousands of people being forcibly displaced from their homes and livelihoods. They suddenly needed to find alternative, often far less desirable ways of living. Critical scholars have<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">argued</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Cronon, W. The Trouble with Wilderness: Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature. Environmental History, 1996.</div></div></span>that what the colonialists viewed as attempts to conserve ‘nature’ might be better understood as protecting what they perceived to be natural resources. This goes back to the exploitative nature of European empires, rather than what they broadly defined as the activities of ‘Men’ or ‘Humans’.

Despite<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">ongoing criticism</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Büscher, B. et al. Half-Earth or Whole Earth? Radical ideas for conservation, and their implications. Oryx, 2016.</div></div></span>, the imagined separation of ‘areas for and of nature’ and ‘areas for and of economic development’ remained. This worldview has persisted through two World Wars, the twentieth century and into the contemporary era. Nowadays, this separation exists in many mainstream environmental policy ideas. Criticisms of this have been voiced at various moments by movements like ‘Half Earth’ and ‘30x30’.

Those associated with the discipline of ‘political ecology’ use a critical theory called ‘<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">the production of Nature</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Smith, N. and O'Keefe, P. Geography, Marx and the Concept of Nature. Antipode, 1980.</div></div></span>’ put forward by geographers Neil Smith and Phil O’Keefe to explain the contradictions raised by this separation of Man (or Society) and Nature. In particular, work drawing on this theory demonstrates how human decisions have shaped what we consider "natural" areas. The theory emerged from a Marxist academic tradition and is thus usually applied to capitalist logics of development. The theory of the production of nature argues that capitalist development is supported by a ‘socially constructed’ imagination of Nature. Generally, we think that Nature often occupies a separate realm from that of Society. That is, Nature and Society are considered two very different things. The separate ‘natural realm’ provides the resources for [capitalist] development: natural resources. However, it also poses threats to Society and Development. These threats are seen as external to society: natural hazards and natural disasters.

Political ecologists’ critiques focus on the perception of nature as something outside of society. They often argue that it is the material impacts of ‘[capitalist] Development as the exploitation of natural resources’ on the non-human world that are<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">increasingly responsible</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Smith, N. There’s No Such Thing as a Natural Disaster. Social Science Research Council, 2006.</div></div></span>for the dangerous aspects of 'natural' disasters. By saying that, political ecologists imply that many of the problems and hazards we face are not natural, but caused by the way we use nature. This challenges a ‘modernist’ view of development which imagines that economic growth and technological innovation can offset their negative 'externalities'. The cycle of growth and innovation is expected to cancel out negative consequences over time. Humans create conditions that threaten nature, such as the production of harmful waste products or land degradation. However, many government policymakers still subscribe to the modernist idea that these environmental issues, alongside poor labour conditions, socioeconomic inequalities, and crucially, the burning of fossil fuels can be fixed through further economic and technological 'Development'.

Challenges to these established development logics are increasingly expressed in terms of ‘The Anthropocene’. This term was popularised by scientist Paul Crutzen to challenge existing development logics. Crutzen argues that the impacts of these so-called ‘externalities’ (side effects) of human [anthropos] activities will be so powerful that they will be visible in the geological record (after the Holocene, Pleistocene, etc). He believes that the human impact on the planet has been so strong that it will leave an important and lasting mark on the Earth. Critics of ideas such as ‘The Anthropocene’ argue that the idea groups ‘humans’ into one singular category and fails to acknowledge that, in fact, it has always been the case that a rich minority of humans and associated organisations have been the ones responsible for, and continue to be responsible for, a majority of global environmental degradation. Let’s now consider this argument in relation to climate change specifically.

European countries and the United States have contributed the most to cumulative carbon emissions and thus climate change.

Measuring each country's contribution to global CO2 emissions is incredibly complex. Indeed, the methods behind these calculations involve many variables and come with uncertainties. Despite these complexities, Simon Evans of Carbon Brief<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">argues</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Evans, S. Which countries are historically responsible for climate change?. Carbon Brief, 2021.</div></div></span>that European countries have contributed the most to cumulative carbon emissions. Thus, specific countries can be tied to the current trends of climate change. This dates back to the industrial revolution of the 1800s, which introduced a more resource-intensive economy. At the time, 'industrialised powers', mostly related to the 'West', started burning coal and oil. Such actions forcibly led to an intensification of the heating of the Earth's surface. Moreover, European powers removed carbon sinks in other areas of the world during the colonial period. Empires cut down forests and instigated other carbon-negative land-use changes in their colonies and dominions. Simon Evans also shows that the United States has significantly contributed to atmospheric carbon dioxide through forest clearances and its own industrial development. Other fossil fuel-intensive and resource-rich countries have been historically involved. These include Canada, Estonia, Norway, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states. Of course, these emissions have enabled significant economic, technological, and social development for the above countries. However, given the globalised nature of the economy that underpinned these emissions and associated development, this development was not evenly spread.

Indeed, colonisation devastated many societies, communities and environments the world over. Resources, wealth and people were forcibly extracted from these areas to generate wealth for European powers. Walter Rodney, a critical development scholar from Tanzania,<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">points out</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Rodney, W. How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Verso Books, 2018.</div></div></span>that whilst this process underpinned the development or ‘modernisation’ of European empires, it had the opposite effect in Africa, which became ‘underdeveloped’. Another side effect, however, continues to mark former colonies to this day. In a ‘double whammy’, evidence suggests that these countries are also facing more frequent and severe weather changes due to climate change. This<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">critical historical and geographical</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Sultana, F. The unbearable heaviness of climate coloniality. Political Geography, 2022.</div></div></span>perspective is vital to understand contemporary climate change policy. These policies, as they are constructed, often reproduce colonial worldviews of Society and Nature that were once spread by colonisers. And they also continue<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">causing</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Mann, G. and Wainwright, J. Climate Leviathan: A Political Theory of Our Planetary Future. Verso Books, 2018.</div></div></span>large material impacts on these countries' societies and ecosystems.

Disasters, Climate Change and Development: towards Loss and Damage compensation?

A recent report on climate change mitigation (<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">2022 IPCC Report on Mitigation of Climate Change</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change.</div></div></span>, pgs. 231-232) shows that wealthier countries have contributed more to the greenhouse gas emissions that are changing the climate. These emissions<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">lead</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability.</div></div></span>to more extreme and frequent weather events that many poorer nations cannot deal with. This is especially the case for former colonies and people who were unable to develop strategies to cope or adapt to them. This situation has<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">sparked</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Dunne, D. and Gabbatiss, J. COP27: Why is addressing ‘loss and damage’ crucial for climate justice?. Carbon Brief, 2022.</div></div></span>a demand for justice from these nations. They want the richer countries to pay for the losses and damages they have caused by their emissions. This is called the ‘Loss and Damage’ compensation movement.

Loss and Damage (L&D) is an idea that refers to the general negative impacts (losses and damages) of climate change on both people and the environment. In relation to the specific agenda and political debate, the term Loss and Damage has increasingly been<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">used to describe</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>United Nations. Loss and damage: A moral imperative to act.</div></div></span>specifically ‘the negative impacts of climate change that occur despite, or in the absence of, mitigation and adaptation’. That is, climate impacts which communities, countries and ecosystems will be unable to deal with, due to constraints on resilience strategies. A Loss and Damage mechanism was established in 2022 under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Its official name is the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage Associated with Climate Change Impacts. Its idea is fairly straightforward: get rich and polluting countries to help those most affected by climate change. So far, however, the mechanism has received negligible engagement and funding from its expected contributors.

Indeed, these wealthier nations raise certain arguments against this mechanism. They point to a philosophical question: should countries that have historically contributed most to global carbon emissions be held to account for emissions released under very different circumstances? The historical context and the specific circumstances at the time were indeed very different. When many of these carbon emissions were released, the scientific and political world did not have our current knowledge of the long-term impacts of these emissions on climate. This argument is<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">supported</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Dunne, D. et al. Q&A: Should developed nations pay for ‘loss and damage’ from climate change?. Carbon Brief, 2022.</div></div></span>to an extent by the complexities of determining where historical carbon emissions were released from. Another argument deployed by those who would have to pay for L&D relates to the<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">difficulty</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Stott, P. A. Attribution of extreme weather and climate-related events. WIREs Climate Change, 2015.</div></div></span>of attributing specific events and processes of Loss and Damage to Climate Change. Climate change ‘impacts’ are only ever felt in relation to other social, political, economic, and physical processes. They are part of a wider array of variables, including vulnerabilities, capacities, and multi-hazards. Thus, developed countries and corporations<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">argue</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Otto, F. E. L. et al. Causality and the fate of climate litigation: The role of the social superstructure narrative. Global Policy, 2022.</div></div></span>, it is difficult to truly determine how much should be paid for Loss and Damage, as it is often challenging to know the extent to which climate change was the real cause of specific losses and damages.

Proponents of the Loss and Damage movement would argue these counterpoints are mere technicalities. For them, there are still scientific truths about climate change that justify the adoption of L&D mechanisms. First, it is undisputed that climate change is happening, and that it has been, is being, and will continue to be caused by industrialised nations. But secondly, there is evidence that climate change is making extreme weather events and processes more severe and more likely in places where the poorer majority of the world's population live.

Bearing all this in mind, four key nuances are useful to keep in mind when considering these debates on Loss and Damage:

1. Disasters related to climate-related hazards will always have political, social, and economic causes beyond the extent and magnitude of the hazard.

2. Climate Change projections suggest that on our current trajectories of both mitigation and adaptation, some weather events and processes will exceed some groups’ abilities to manage them.

3. The difficulty of attributing a numerical figure to the extent of disaster damage caused by climate change alone does not disclose the need for Loss and Damage payments. That being said, calculating the amount to be paid, and by whom, remains riven with political and scientific complexities.

4. These theoretical debates, policy framings, and scientific endeavours are all still very much under development. They are far from settled, interconnected, and changing rapidly.

The complexity of climate change attribution, both for determining contributions and the impacts of climate change, points to the need for a more holistic and nuanced understanding of climate change. In essence, to understand the dynamics behind climate change, we need to understand those behind development and disasters. This is why some scholars, who are generally more sympathetic to those demanding funds for loss and damage, suggest taking a more holistic approach to viewing climate justice. Broadly speaking, this involves considering climate change impacts, losses and damages, and ‘disasters’, in terms of ‘development’, sustainable or otherwise. Several terms are circulating to describe this more holistic view. However, the IPCC, as a UN body constituted of thousands of world-renowned scientists, has relied on one phrasing as of late. They call it climate resilient development.


Climate Resilient Development

Climate resilient development aims to balance climate change mitigation, adaptation, and disaster risk reduction. It involves considering trade-offs and complexities in various areas, such as constructing energy-efficient buildings, building renewable energy infrastructures like dams, and aligning the global economy with climate goals. While international policy frameworks acknowledge the need for integration, challenges remain largely due to political and economic interests. Achieving climate resilient development will require risk-informed transformative solutions that lead to equitable outcomes for all. Highlighting the power relations that underpin disasters might be one way of achieving this.

Climate Resilient Development

Climate Resilient Development
Photo: CIFOR / Flickr

Our understanding of climate change and how society is accelerating it has led to the creation of new policy agendas. Their goals are twofold: slowing, or mitigating climate change, and adapting to its current and future effects. But these goals are often not considered in isolation. Instead, policy frameworks attempt to consider the trade-offs and connections between these goals and disaster risk reduction over the short and long term. This process of consideration is referred to here as<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">climate resilient development</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. FAQ 6: What is Climate Resilient Development and how do we pursue it?.</div></div></span>.

There is no exact science to explain what these trade-offs might look like, nor a ‘correct’ balancing of priorities, so it is useful to consider what climate resilient development means across some different issues and contexts.

Climate Resilient Urban Development

Let’s imagine that a new university building is to be built in earthquake-prone Kathmandu, Nepal. It will be designed to be highly energy-efficient and to reduce emissions in the long run. It will also be designed in such a way that it will remain cool during the hot season. Many of the departments from existing university buildings will be relocated to this bigger building, meaning less energy will be spent on heating these outdated, energy-inefficient buildings. A climate resilient development<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">approach</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Simpson, N. P. et al. Climate-resilient development planning for cities: progress from Cape Town. Urban Sustainability, 2023.</div></div></span>invites developers to consider the many implications of this construction. In particular, it would consider the interconnected implications of constructing this building for disaster risk reduction and climate change mitigation and adaptation. Beginning with climate change mitigation, developers might consider:

• Will the overall reduction of emissions offset the emissions given off by the construction of this new building?

• Will the overall reduction of emissions offset the emissions given off by the destruction of the old university buildings once they have been vacated?

• How will the waste materials, including the old buildings, be disposed of?

Assuming the building is viable on these terms, they then need to also consider whether their ability to achieve mitigation will be affected by adapting the building to future climate change. This would involve asking questions like:

• What sort of temperature range does the building need to remain cool within? Is this likely to change because of climate change?

• Will climate change affect the flood risk profile of the new building?

Whilst these questions may be better asked in a less linear way, climate resilient development, which is inclusive of disaster risk reduction logics, will also need to consider the implications for risks beyond climate change. For example:

• Given that Kathmandu sits in an earthquake-prone area, to what level of shaking will the building be designed to withstand? Does this affect the type of building materials available?

• How will the cooling mechanisms work alongside the need to ensure buildings are properly ventilated, now seen as a vital design feature following the COVID-19 pandemic?

• Will the quarrying required to construct this building be done in a way that does not generate a landslide risk?

This is not an exhaustive list of questions but the trade-offs and contradictions raised by each question would need to be worked through by the developers of this building and undoubtedly many other stakeholders. From this example, we might then consider what climate resilient development looks like at the level of a university campus, then a city district, an entire city, and beyond. As the scale of intervention increases, so does the complexity and ultimately the number of people affected by these decisions.

A wider intervention also<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">raises the inevitable issue</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Ziervogel, G. et al. Inserting rights and justice into urban resilience: a focus on everyday risk. Environment & Urbanization, 2017.</div></div></span>of decisions creating opportunities for some, and risks and losses for others, across a wide geographical range. For example, who will be mining for the raw materials needed? Will these labourers for construction be sourced from nearby areas, or have to migrate from other areas of the country, or indeed the rest of the world? How much will these workers be paid, and how will they be protected from harm? These considerations show how quickly decisions about climate resilient development become political. This<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">demands</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Byskov, M. F. et al. An agenda for ethics and justice in adaptation to climate change. Climate and Development, 2021.</div></div></span>acknowledgement and a basic understanding that politics cannot be removed from these questions. This goes to<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">show</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Romero-Lankao, P. et al. Urban transformative potential in a changing climate. Nature Climate Change, 2018.</div></div></span>that climate resilient development will not be achieved if policymakers rely on technical, apolitical solutions.

Whilst the above example is hypothetical, these are very much live issues, as evidenced by the work of the Tomorrow’s Cities project. This research-based but policy-focused project works across four cities; Nairobi, Istanbul, Quito, and Kathmandu. It builds on the ideas outlined thus far in order to ‘catalyse a transition from crisis management to multi-hazard risk-informed planning and decision-making that strengthens the voice and capacity of the urban poor’. The project involves a wide range of stakeholders. From officials and academics to slum residents and church leaders, these individuals come to discuss the future risks in their neighbourhoods. Tomorrow's Cities also integrates scientific modelling and evidence to demonstrate likely changes in the urban environment under climate change.

In theory, such projects allow a more<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">open and interactive approach</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Cremen, G. et al. A state-of-the-art decision-support environment for risk-sensitive and pro-poor urban planning and design in Tomorrow's cities. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 2023.</div></div></span>to decision-making about how the city should achieve climate resilient development. Whilst technical and scientific knowledge<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">plays a role</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Gentile, R. et al. Scoring, selecting, and developing physical impact models for multi-hazard risk assessment. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 2022.</div></div></span>here, the process remains highly political. One decision may affect a community positively and another negatively. They may impact a set of stakeholders in more nuanced ways. Thus, talking about and building consensus around potentially<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">controversial and ultimately political decisions</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Pelling, M. and Borie, M. The Whole of Culture Approach: A Research Agenda to Support Transition From Risk Management to Risk Sensitive Development. Tomorrow's Cities, 2021.</div></div></span>is arguably the more difficult but important part of the process.

Climate Resilient Development and Energy

Achieving climate resilient development involves all aspects of society, not just urban planners. This matters, too, when we build renewable energy infrastructures, like dams. Take hydroelectric dams in the Himalayas, for example. They provide clean energy to countries like India, Pakistan, and China.

However, critics argue that the emissions reductions from these dams are not worth the high costs and risks involved in building them. Their construction involves many human activities which lead to carbon emissions. Once they're built, they change how rivers work, affecting the plants and animals that live there. Dams also release a gas called methane, which contributes to climate change. It's not just nature that pays a price for dams, but people too. Tragic accidents have happened during dam construction in<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">India</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>PreventionWeb. Chamoli disaster could happen again. 2021.</div></div></span>, where<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">workers have died</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Banerjee, B. Three workers associated with Sevoke-Rangpo rail project still traceless in Kalimpong. The Telegraph, 2023.</div></div></span>due to mountain hazards in the Himalayas. Dams come with<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">several risks</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Beaulieu, J. J., DelSontro, T. and Downing, J. A. Eutrophication will increase methane emissions from lakes and impoundments during the 21st century. Nature Communications, 2019.</div></div></span>: they change ecosystems, release harmful gases, and impact people's lives. They are failing to reach a balance between countering climate change and not causing harm to people and the environment. That's why, even though dams are intended to be good for the environment by providing renewable energy, many<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">don't fully meet the standards</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Scott, C. A. Water in the Hindu Kush Himalaya. The Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment, 2019.</div></div></span>for being resilient to climate change.

Climate Resilient Development and the global economy

A recent research project has also drawn attention to the current failure of global supply chains and industries to achieve climate resilient development. The Disaster Trade project focused on three major global industries; tea, cotton, and bricks, and how they undermine climate resilient development despite claiming to be sustainable.

Their findings point first to how the emissions released from the production and transport of these goods are unfairly attributed to the poorer countries of production. Indeed, the consumption of these products takes place almost entirely in richer countries which in many cases were historically the colonisers of the countries where production now takes place. The project also shows how the local impacts of these industries produce disaster risks for those employed in the production process. These industries often worsen hazards for local populations. They exacerbate them in various ways. This can be through processes of environmental degradation. For example, clothing industries may rely on the diversion of water for cotton production, causing localised droughts. Tea plantations can degrade slopes through intensive tea production, and cause new hazards this way.

These industries might also affect people’s vulnerabilities and capacities. Taking the landslide example further, the report outlines how people working in tea plantations in Sri Lanka are given no option but to live on slopes destabilised by the tea production process. Their specific conditions of poverty, with limited alternatives for housing and income, and their very low wages, explain this situation. This means their capacity to deal with the impacts of landslides is reduced. These supply chains and the problems associated with them are so firmly entrenched that solutions seem unachievable. They would require complete political transformations to be addressed. Nonetheless, the lens of climate resilient development makes it clear that the current configuration of these supply chains makes the perspective of climate resilient development hard to realise.<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">None</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Pelling, M., Manuel-Navarrete, D. and Redclift, M. Climate Change and the Crisis of Capitalism: A Chance to Reclaim, Self, Society and Nature. Routledge, 2012.</div></div></span>of the three key goals of climate resilient development; mitigation, adaptation, or disaster risk reduction, will be achieved if nothing changes.

Climate Resilient Development in Global Policy Frameworks

Two well-known international policy frameworks are broadly framed around issues relating to climate resilient development. These are the<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">UNFCCC’s Paris Agreement</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>United Nations Climate Change. The Paris Agreement: What is the Paris Agreement?.</div></div></span>2015 and the 2015-2030<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">UN’s Sustainable Development Goals</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Sustainable Development Goals.</div></div></span>(SDGs). These two frameworks form part of what is often known as the post-2015 agenda. The other two lesser-known components of this agenda are the<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">UNDRR’s Sendai Framework for DRR</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. What is the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction?.</div></div></span>(2015-2030) and UN HABITAT’s New Urban Agenda.

During the negotiation process for these various frameworks, there was widespread recognition of the need to integrate policies relating to climate change, development, and disasters. This recognition was based on the<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">clear evidence</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Field, C.B. et al. Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2012.</div></div></span>that no one of these issues can be tackled in isolation. Despite this, scholars who attended these preliminary meetings reported opposition to this holistic approach. Their reports argue national governments and industry deliberately worked to ensure the frameworks remained within their respective siloes.

For example, Mark Pelling and Lucy Pearson<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">reported</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Pearson, L. and Pelling, M. The UN Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030: Negotiation Process and Prospects for Science and Practice. World Scientific, 2015.</div></div></span>that during the Sendai framework negotiations, the United States pushed back against aligning disaster risk reduction too closely to climate change adaptation and mitigation. This was because they were worried about a legally binding, explicit linkage between disaster impacts and climate change. The concern was that this might provide a legal basis for poorer, so-called ‘developing countries' to claim<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">‘loss and damage’</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Huq, S., Roberts, E. and Fenton, A. Loss and damage. Nature Climate Change, 2013.</div></div></span>compensation against them. Indeed, these countries are more exposed to the impacts of climate change, despite not emitting anywhere near as much as richer developing countries like the US. In addition to this, Ilan Kelman<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">argues</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Kelman, I. Climate Change and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. International Journal of Disaster Risk Science, 2015.</div></div></span>that experts in each particular discipline of climate change, development, and disaster risk reduction often acted, directly and indirectly, to maintain divisions. Their interest in doing so was likely to secure their continuous involvement and funding streams in each particular ‘silo’.

Despite this ongoing siloisation, there is a cross-silo critical consensus that<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">disasters</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Collins, A. E. Disaster and Development. Routledge, 2009.</div></div></span>and<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">climate change</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Boda, C. S. et al. Framing Loss and Damage from climate change as the failure of Sustainable Development. Climate and Development, 2021.</div></div></span>are outcomes of unsustainable development. In turn, there is a consensus that moving towards climate resilient development will<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">require</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. Towards risk-informed implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 2022.</div></div></span>making development risk and climate-informed. This means that climate change policy should be<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">considered</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Kelman, I. Linking disaster risk reduction, climate change, and the sustainable development goals. Disaster Prevention and Management, 2017.</div></div></span>within an overarching approach to disaster risk reduction and sustainable development. Despite this, it is undoubtedly climate change in isolation which receives the most funding and media attention. It has been argued that this is because, of the three issues, climate change is the easiest to isolate as a standalone issue. It may also be the easiest issue to<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">frame as</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Nightingale, A. J. et al. Beyond Technical Fixes: climate solutions and the great derangement. Climate and Development, 2020.</div></div></span>something which can be managed through technical fixes that do not demand political transformation. This also reflects why, despite shifts in international policy frameworks like the Sendai Framework, national governments<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">tend to still perceive</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Briceño, S. Looking Back and Beyond Sendai: 25 Years of International Policy Experience on Disaster Risk Reduction. International Journal of Disaster Risk Science, 2015.</div></div></span>disasters as external threats, primarily associated with hazards. Framing them as external implies that disasters can be prevented through technical solutions. It also entails that our current model of development is not the problem to solve here. It is therefore the easiest approach for policymakers to undertake.

These solutions rely on technological innovation and the concentration of power within centralised state agencies that coordinate emergency response efforts in a<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">command-and-control style</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Imperiale, A. J. and Vanclay, F. Command-and-control, emergency powers, and the failure to observe United Nations disaster management principles following the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 2019.</div></div></span>. The latter was particularly evident in most countries' responses to the COVID-19 pandemic (e.g.<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">India</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>McGowran, P. et al. The making of India's COVID-19 disaster: A Disaster Risk Management (DRM) Assemblage analysis. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 2023.</div></div></span>). Some contexts ultimately require engaging with and un-doing firmly entrenched political, economic and social development processes. This approach is to the detriment of addressing such context-specific vulnerability.

At almost every point where decisions can be made to transform these development processes, though, there is usually<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">resistance</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Matyas, D. and Pelling, M. Positioning resilience for 2015: the role of resistance, incremental adjustment and transformation in disaster risk management policy. Disasters, 2014.</div></div></span>against change. This is primarily because, as critical scholars in the field of<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">political ecology</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Swyngedouw, E. and Heynen, N. C. Urban Political Ecology, Justice and the Politics of Scale. Antipode, 2004.</div></div></span>point out, at each level of decision-making, there are groups who<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">benefit</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Peet, R. and Watts, M. Liberation Ecologies: Environment, Development and Social Movements. Routledge, 2002.</div></div></span>from existing approaches to unsustainable ‘development’. Besides the outright<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">protection of private interests</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Bulkeley, H. Governing climate change: the politics of risk society?. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 2002.</div></div></span>, some scholars point to<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">path dependency</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Adamson, G. C. D., Hannaford, M. J. and Rohland, E. J. Re-thinking the present: The role of a historical focus in climate change adaptation research. Global Environmental Change, 2018.</div></div></span>. Indeed, some of the institutional and cultural norms which guide official decision-making<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">often narrow</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Mustapha, D. The Production of an Urban Hazardscape in Pakistan: Modernity, Vulnerability, and the Range of Choice. Nature and Society, 2005.</div></div></span>policymakers' perception of the range of choices available when it comes to addressing complex development challenges.

Because of these<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">complex political relationships</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Blackburn, S. and Pelling, M. The political impacts of adaptation actions: Social contracts, a research agenda. WIREs Climate Change, 2018.</div></div></span>, there is a<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">general trend</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Solecki, W., Pelling, M. and Garschagen, M. Transitions between risk management regimes in cities. Ecology and Society, 2017.</div></div></span>of resisting transformative solutions to structural problems and thus disaster risk creation<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">continues apace</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction - Our World at Risk: Transforming Governance for a Resilient Future. 2022.</div></div></span>. As of 2023, there is little evidence of the emergence of any widespread political transformation in response to these structural failures to achieve sustainable development. Nonetheless, there is some evidence that disasters, when framed in certain terms,<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">can be generative of positive political change</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Birkmann, J. et al. Extreme events and disasters: a window of opportunity for change? Analysis of organizational, institutional and political changes, formal and informal responses after mega-disasters. Natural Hazards, 2008.</div></div></span>. As a result, scholars are interested in new ways to<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">frame disasters</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Pelling, M. and Dill, K. Disaster politics: tipping points for change in the adaptation of sociopolitical regimes. Progress in Human Geography, 2009</div></div></span>, in a  more political manner. They view this as an opportunity to contribute to climate resilient development through the idea of<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">climate change adaptation as societal transformation</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Pelling, M. Adaptation to Climate Change: From Resilience to Transformation. Routledge, 2011.</div></div></span>. It is also important to note, though, that societal transformation<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">may not always lead</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Blackburn, S. What Does Transformation Look Like? Post-Disaster Politics and the Case for Progressive Rehabilitation. Sustainability, 2018.</div></div></span>to more just and equitable outcomes for all. It might lead to<span class="span"><span id=hint class="box-source">climate change maladaptation</span><div class="popover">Source:<br><br><div>Schipper, E. L. F. Maladaptation: When Adaptation to Climate Change Goes Very Wrong. One Earth, 2020.</div></div></span>in some instances. Efforts to adapt to climate change would then need to be thought through and implemented in such a way that no community is left behind. If they are poorly implemented, a whole range of people may be less able to cope with the impacts of climate change than before.



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Videos & Documentaries

1. Climate Change attribution : calculating the role of climate change in natural disasters. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, 2022. 

2. UN climate report : Scientists release “ survival guide ” to avert climate disaster. BBC News, 2023. 

3. Comprehensive Disaster and Climate Risk Management. United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2022. 

4. UNESCO’s Contribution to Disaster Risk Reduction. UNESCO, 2020. 

5. A Decade of Progress on Disaster Risk Management. Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, 2019. 

6. What is Climate Adaptation?. The Nature Conservancy, 2022. 

7. Understanding Disaster Risk. Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, 2016.

8. 10 things you should know about disaster risk reduction. Humanitarian Practice Network, 2015. 

9. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2016. 

10. Adapting to climate change: Five countries set an example. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2015.

11. Adaptation and Mitigation. PBS Climate Wisconsin Education, 2020. 

12. United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - What we do. United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2017.

13. Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation & Vulnerability. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2022.

Stats, Databases & Infographics

1. Natural disasters - statistics & facts. Statista.

2. 24 Types of Natural Disaster. Outforia, 2023.

3. Timetable for Climate Resilient Development. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2022. 

4. Natural Disasters. Our World in Data.

5. 2022 Disasters in Numbers. Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, 2023. 

6. The International Disaster Database. Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters

7. Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management. Asian Development Bank.

8. PreventionWeb. United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Articles, Reports & Books

1. Bajracharya, B., Childs, I. and Hastings, P. Climate change adaptation through land use planning and disaster management: Local government perspectives from Queensland. Pacific Rim Real Estate Society Conference, 2011. 

2. Carrington, D. Revealed: how climate breakdown is supercharging toll of extreme weather. The Guardian, 2022.

3. Davison, C. The country trailblazing the fight against disasters. BBC, 2022. 

4. Irfan, U. Why disasters are getting more severe but killing fewer people. Vox, 2022. 

5. World Disasters Report 2022. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, 2022. 

6. Climate /change and Disaster Risk Reduction. International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, 2008. 

7. Disaster Risk Reduction And Climate Change. United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2021. 

8. Taalas, P. Climate Change, Disasters and Their Mitigation. United Nations, 2022. 

9. Climate change and disaster management. World Bank, 2017.

10. Case Studies: Disaster Risk Management and Climate Change Adaptation. Action Against Hunger, 2015. 

11. Acting On Climate Change and Disaster Risk for The Pacific. The World Bank, 2013.

12. Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction. United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, 2022.

Eductional Resources

Teaching ideas and recommendations

1. Climate action and disaster risk reduction. United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

2. Free Online Course on Nature-based Solutions for Disaster and Climate Resilience. United Nations Environment Programme, 2021. 

3. Disaster Risk Reduction. Unesco.

4. Disaster risk reduction & disaster risk management. United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

5. Natural hazards and disaster risk reduction. World Meteorological Organization.

6. Adapting‌ ‌to‌ ‌Climate‌ ‌Change‌. Center for Science Education.

7. Adaptation to climate change. European Commission.

8. Adaptation and resilience. UN Climate Change.

9. Climate Adaptation. United Nations.

Lectures & Debates

1. Bows-Larkin, A. Climate Change Is Happening. Here's How We Adapt. TED, 2015.

2. Kyte, R. From disaster response to disaster prevention. TEDx Talks, 2012.

3. Tuneberg, S. We know how to save lives in disasters - why don't we?. TEDx Talks, 2019.

4. Resilience: The Global Adaptation Podcast. United Nations Environment Programme, 2021. 

5. Happening Right Now: More Extreme Disaster Events. Getting Through It, 2022.

6. O'Sullivan, S. Space Technologies for Natural Disaster Management. TEDx Talks, 2016.

7. Princess Margriet. Preventing natural disaster from becoming humanitarian ones. TEDx Talks, 2015.

8. Disasters Deconstructed Podcast.

Authors & Partners

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