1. Strengthening climate resilience: Context and approach

Global average temperature has increased by more than one degree Celsius since the pre-industrial era, and the trend is worrying. The 2011-20 decade is the warmest on record, with the warmest seven years all occurring since 2014 (NOAA, 2021[1]). The atmospheric concentrations of major greenhouse gases (GHGs) have locked-in this warming trend for generations to come. The increase of ocean temperature over the past decade has been higher than the long-term average and in 2020, the North Atlantic hurricane season had the largest number of named storms on record (WMO, 2020[2]).

Climate variability and change are altering and intensifying risk patterns with significant impacts on people, society and the environment. Changes in temperature and precipitation are leading to both extreme weather events and slow onset changes, including prolonged droughts, more frequent and extreme storms, wildfires, floods and rising sea levels (IPCC, 2018[3]). The cumulative impacts of climate change could also cause parts of the Earth system to change irreversibly, such as the loss of the Amazon rainforest or the West Antarctic ice sheet. Climate change also causes impacts that are more difficult to monetise, such as loss of life, health, territory, human mobility and cultural heritage. Both economic and non-economic impacts must be averted, minimised and addressed to strengthen climate resilience (Box 1.1).

With rising impacts of climate change on lives and livelihoods – differentiated across and within countries – the urgent need for ambitious action to mitigate the emission of GHGs is evident. Changes in global average temperature have occurred and further changes are already locked-in, leading to dire consequences for the most vulnerable groups of society. These include groups marginalised by, for example, their gender, race, age, (dis)ability, class identities or geographic locations (Chaplin, Twigg and Lovell, 2019[9]; Eriksen et al., 2021[10]). Complementary efforts must therefore strengthen the resilience of people, the environment and society (Box 1.2). Risk identification and assessment, prevention, recovery and rehabilitation can break the vicious cycle that perpetuates vulnerabilities and exposures (IPCC, 2012[11]). The scale and characteristics of some changes (e.g. sea-level rise for low-lying islands or large temperature or precipitation changes in already vulnerable locations) will require transformational measures to limit far-reaching damages. Risk transfer mechanisms and social safety nets also complement these measures, and help poor households cope with devastating impacts of disasters.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of society to the increasing pressure of human activities on natural systems, and the need for economies to strengthen resilience to different types of risks (OECD, 2020[12]). Protecting natural systems is vital for avoiding the next pandemic. Land-use change and wildlife exploitation, for instance, can increase infectious disease risk by bringing people and domestic animals close to pathogen-carrying wildlife (OECD, 2020[13]). The COVID-19 pandemic has also demonstrated how quickly hazards can spread in an increasingly interconnected world, leading to systemic and cascading risks. Beyond the devastating health emergency affecting millions of lives, responses to contain the pandemic severely disrupted the global economy and development at every level (OECD, 2020[14]). The pandemic has also seen a spike in gender-based violence, which can worsen challenges to addressing women’s disproportionate vulnerability to, among others, environmental degradation (Castañeda Carney et al., 2020[15]).

Previous crises have demonstrated that societies can take years to recover from such shocks. During that period, decisions on the recovery can determine the sustainability of development pathways for decades. As countries gradually shift their focus from the initial health emergency towards economic recovery from the crises, they will need to ensure the recovery does not build new risks into socio-economic systems. For example, they will need to avoid locking-in carbon-intensive investments or increasing vulnerabilities to climate risks, jeopardising progress on development (Buckle et al., 2020[16]). By February 2021, governments worldwide had announced investments of about USD 12.7 trillion for their responses to the crisis (Vivideconomics, 2020[17]). Most of those stimulus measures, however, only include a limited focus on climate resilience (GCA, 2021[18]).

This Guidance aims to support efforts to strengthen the resilience of developing countries to the adverse impacts of climate change and variability. The intended audience includes both government officials at national and sub-national levels, and providers of development co-operation. It may also provide insights to other development partners, including civil society organisations (CSOs) and private-sector actors. The Guidance presents the following:

  • Three high-level aspirations recognised in practice, research and recent international agreements, including on climate change and disaster risk reduction, as key considerations for ensuring that action on climate resilience also supports broader sustainable development objectives.

  • Four mechanisms that can facilitate a focus on climate resilience in national and sub-national policy processes. The mechanisms also aim to guide support provided by development co-operation in light of partner countries’ own domestic priorities on climate change and development.

  • Three enablers for action for strengthening climate resilience, and identifying opportunities for government officials and development co-operation to enhance these enablers.

Countries are the drivers of domestic efforts to strengthen climate resilience. The mechanisms and enablers therefore take the country perspective (including national, sub-national and community levels) as the starting point. This is complemented with a focus on the potential role of development co-operation or other actors supporting policy processes in partner countries.

This Guidance is not a planning tool. Instead, it highlights potential actions by different stakeholders across levels of governance through the proposed mechanisms and enablers to strengthen climate resilience. In each of the sections on the mechanisms and enablers, a list of tools and available guidance complements the rationale for the proposed set of actions. The aspirations are treated as cross-cutting considerations, but recommendations for action are not systematically put forward.

The Guidance builds on the Integrating Climate Change Adaptation into Development Co-operation report (OECD, 2009[22]). Over the past decade, however, scientists have made considerable progress in understanding climate risks.

Table 1.1 summarises recent reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In parallel, policy agendas related to climate change and sustainable development (Table 1.2), as well as effective development co-operation (Box 1.3) have also progressed. The Guidance takes account of these developments.

A growing number of countries has taken steps to identify and address climate risks through different policy processes:

  • Over 130 developing countries have included adaptation components in their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) (UN Environment, 2018[33]).

  • At least 120 developing countries have started to formulate their National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) (UNFCCC, 2019[34]), of which 20 had been submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change by January 2021 (UNFCCC, n.d.[35]).

  • Nearly 50 countries have developed National or Local Disaster Risk Reduction Strategies under the Sendai Framework (UNDRR, 2019[36]).

  • As of January 2021, 26 countries had adopted targets on net zero GHG emissions by the middle of the century (Climate Watch, 2021[37]). This has important implications for avoiding some of the worst consequences of climate risks.

National policies, related legislation and financing frameworks with an explicit focus on climate change can be effective in conveying a government’s climate objectives and priorities to different stakeholders. These stakeholders can range from households and the private sector to development partners and CSOs, including representatives of women, Indigenous peoples and other marginalised groups. They are, however, only one vehicle through which countries pursue climate action. Sector-level decisions in the context of infrastructure, energy, agriculture, forestry, land-use changes, water supply and sanitation, and disaster risk reduction to name a few, all contribute to a country’s climate resilience.

National plans and strategies inform and are informed by action at the sub-national level where a lot of implementation takes place (Matsumoto et al., 2019[38]; Dazé, Price-Kelly and Rass, 2016[39]). Sub-national authorities also oversee different sectoral policies, including on housing, land-use management, transport and natural resources management. These policies provide practical entry points for harnessing potential complementarities across sectors. The translation of planning into implementation, however, is contingent on national priorities, institutional capacities and available information, and the nature of competing demands for both human and financial resources at the local level (OECD, 2020[40]).

Other non-state actors, including the private sector and CSOs, also play an active role. Large enterprises and small firms alike continuously adjust their businesses to changes in their contexts, including climate change. In this way, they seek to maximise the profitability and long-term viability of their operations and business models. The private sector also often complements the role of the public sector in managing climate risks. Among other ways, it does this by providing technical solutions to markets, facilitating cross-border and in-country technology transfer, connecting relevant actors within a community, facilitating information exchange and developing capacity through business networks. CSOs may also play an important role in bringing to the attention of policy makers the needs of marginalised populations and advocating for their empowerment to heighten action on climate resilience (OECD, 2020[41]). Governments and development co-operation recognise the role of non-state actors and increasingly engage with them in efforts to strengthen climate resilience. This, for example, includes their roles as implementers of action, providers of finance and facilitators for networks (Casado-Asensio, Shin and Kato, forthcoming[42]).

This Guidance builds on the wealth of knowledge products already available and aims to support readers in navigating them. The shift from theory to practice has informed a diverse set of tools, guidance and compilations of good practice developed by countries, CSOs, development co-operation providers and the private sector, among others. Examples include guidance on how to conduct climate risk and vulnerability assessments; the role of climate services; public finance management; and monitoring, evaluation and learning. Some of these include a specific sector or thematic focus (e.g. agriculture, water supply and sanitation, mountain areas and biodiversity conservation).

Chapters 2, 3 and 4 are structured around the three components highlighted in Figure 1.1: aspirations, mechanisms and enablers. The aim of each component can be summarised as follows:

  • Aspirations for strengthening climate resilience (Chapter 2): This component highlights three overarching policy objectives, or aspirations, which governments and development co-operation should consider when developing and implementing climate resilience measures, recognising their context specificity: i) country ownership; ii) inclusive approaches; and iii) environmental and social sustainability. These aspirations are selected based on their documented role in supporting sustainable development and by their recognition in recent international agreements on climate change, disaster risk reduction and sustainable development.

  • Mechanisms for implementation (Chapter 3): This component presents approaches to developing and enhancing four mechanisms that can serve as entry points for governments and development co-operation to integrate climate resilience into sustainable development. The mechanisms discussed include i) multi-level governance and policy cycles; ii) financing; iii) sector-level approaches; and iv) monitoring, evaluation and learning.

  • Enablers for action to strengthen climate resilience (Chapter 4): This component highlights three enablers or building blocks for operationalising the mechanisms discussed in Chapter 3, and in the light of the aspirations outlined in Chapter 2: i) data and information; ii) capacity and awareness; and iii) technologies. This is by no means a comprehensive coverage of enablers, with an important omission being rule of law.

While all the mechanisms and enablers are arguably important for strengthening climate resilience, emphasis will depend on individual country contexts. For example, in countries where the agricultural sector is particularly hard hit by the impacts of climate change, the government may initially focus on strengthening the resilience of that sector. Thus, it will focus on the livelihoods of the people relying on agriculture before (or in parallel to) developing national resilience strategies. Similarly, priorities will depend on national circumstances. In some countries, for example, good climate data and information provide a crucial foundation to raise awareness of the risks and build capacity. Other countries with better access to quality data may prioritise training to enhance stakeholders’ technical capacity. Stronger analysis, for example, could help data inform decision-making processes.

The discussion on mechanisms and enablers follows a standard structure that aims to make the discussion brief, action-oriented and easy to navigate:

  • A checklist for action: A list allows readers to quickly grasp key considerations and actions required to operationalise or enhance respective approaches to increase climate resilience.

  • Rationale: A rationale explains why and how the mechanisms and enablers can help strengthen climate resilience of people, communities and ecosystems.

  • Practical tools and guidance documents: Short descriptions of a few specific approaches and methodologies are offered. These are accompanied by references to tools, guidance and material identified through desk-based research and in consultation with different stakeholders.

The Guidance is informed by a diverse set of inputs (see Figure 1.2). This includes a series of thematic studies that provide nuanced analysis of approaches to strengthen climate resilience in different sectors or contexts. Seven case studies informed the thematic studies, and in turn also the Guidance. The case studies aim to provide different regional perspectives and focus on countries where efforts to strengthen climate resilience are already advanced. In addition to providing learning opportunities, this approach allows for the addition of thematic or case studies over time.


[16] Buckle, S. et al. (2020), “Addressing the COVID-19 and climate crises: Potential economic recovery pathways and their implications for climate change mitigation, NDCs and broader socio-economic goals”, OECD/IEA Climate Change Expert Group Papers, No. 2020/04, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/50abd39c-en.

[31] Busan Partnership For Effective Development Co-Operation (2011), The Busan Partnership agreement, http://www.busanhlf4.org (accessed on 21 January 2020).

[42] Casado-Asensio, J., H. Shin and T. Kato (forthcoming), Private-sector Engagement in Strengthening Climate Resilience, OECD Publishing, Paris.

[15] Castañeda Carney, I. et al. (2020), Gender-based Violence and Environment Linkages: The Violence of Inequality, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Geneva, https://doi.org/10.2305/iucn.ch.2020.03.en.

[30] CBD (2010), “Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, including Aichi Biodiversity Targets”, webpage, https://www.cbd.int/sp/ (accessed on 20 January 2020).

[9] Chaplin, D., J. Twigg and E. Lovell (2019), “Intersectional approaches to vulnerability reduction and resilience-building”, No. 12, BRACED Knowledge Manager, Overseas Development Institute, London, https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/resource-documents/12651.pdf.

[37] Climate Watch (2021), “The Net-Zero Tracker”, webpage, https://www.climatewatchdata.org/net-zero-tracker (accessed on 12 January 2021).

[39] Dazé, A., H. Price-Kelly and N. Rass (2016), “Vertical Integration in National Adaptation Plan (NAP) Processes: A Guidance Note for Linking National and Sub-national Adaptation Processes”, webpage, http://www.napglobalnetwork.org (accessed on 18 February 2020).

[20] Dornelles, A. et al. (2020), “Towards a bridging concept for undesirable resilience in social-ecological systems”, Global Sustainability, Vol. 3/e20, pp. 1-12, https://doi.org/10.1017/sus.2020.15.

[10] Eriksen, S. et al. (2021), “Adaptation interventions and their effect on vulnerability in developing countries: Help, hindrance or irrelevance?”, World Development, Vol. 141, p. 105383, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2020.105383.

[18] GCA (2021), State and Trends in Adaptation Report 2020, Global Commission on Adaptation, https://gca.org/reports/state-and-trends-in-adaptation-report-2020/.

[6] Hope, M. (2019), “Cyclones in Mozambique may reveal humanitarian challenges of responding to a new climate reality”, The Lancet Planetary Health, Vol. 3/8, pp. 338-339, https://doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196(19)30131-7.

[7] IPBES (2019), Summary for Policymakers of the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), Bonn, https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3553579.

[23] IPCC (2019), Climate Change and Land, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Geneva, https://www.ipcc.ch/srccl/.

[8] IPCC (2019), IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Geneva, https://www.ipcc.ch/srocc/.

[19] IPCC (2018), “Annex I: Glossary”, in Global Warming of 1.5°, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Geneva, https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/glossary/.

[3] IPCC (2018), Global Warming of 1.5°C, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Geneva, https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/.

[24] IPCC (2014), Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Geneva, https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/syr/.

[11] IPCC (2012), Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation: Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge UK, and New York, https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/special-reports/srex/SREX_Full_Report.pdf.

[38] Matsumoto, T. et al. (2019), “An integrated approach to the Paris climate Agreement: The role of regions and cities”, OECD Regional Development Working Papers, Vol. 2019/13, https://doi.org/10.1787/96b5676d-en.

[1] NOAA (2021), Assessing the Global Climate in 2020, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Asheville, NC, US, https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/news/global-climate-202012 (accessed on 28 January 2021).

[13] OECD (2020), “Biodiversity and the economic response to COVID-19: Ensuring a green and resilient recovery”, Tackling Coronavirus (COVID-19): Contributing to a Global Effort, 28 September, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/d98b5a09-en.

[40] OECD (2020), Common Ground Between the Paris Agreement and the Sendai Framework: Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/3edc8d09-en.

[41] OECD (2020), Development Assistance Committee Members and Civil Society, The Development Dimension, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/51eb6df1-en.

[12] OECD (2020), “Environmental health and strengthening resilience to pandemics”, OECD Policy Responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19), OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/73784e04-en.

[14] OECD (2020), “What does “inclusive governance” mean?: Clarifying theory and practice”, OECD Development Policy Papers, Vol. 27, https://doi.org/10.1787/960f5a97-en.

[22] OECD (2009), Integrating Climate Change Adaptation into Development Co-operation: Policy Guidance, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264054950-en.

[32] OECD/UNDP (2019), “Making Development Co-operation More Effective: Headlines from the 2019 Progress Report”, (flyer), OECD, Paris, United Nations Development Programme, New York, https://www.effectivecooperation.org/system/files/2020-01/GPEDC_2019-Report_Glossy_EN.pdf.

[4] Raymond, C., T. Matthews and R. Horton (2020), “The emergence of heat and humidity too severe for human tolerance”, Science Advances, Vol. 6/19, eaaw1838, https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aaw1838.

[28] UN (2015), Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, United Nations, New York, https://www.un.org/esa/ffd/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/AAAA_Outcome.pdf.

[25] UN (2015), Transforming our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, United Nations, New York, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld.

[33] UN Environment (2018), Adaptation Gap Report 2018, United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi, https://www.unenvironment.org/resources/adaptation-gap-report.

[29] UN Habitat (2017), New Urban Agenda, United Nations Human Settlements Programme, Nairobi, http://habitat3.org/the-new-urban-agenda/.

[36] UNDRR (2019), Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2019, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Geneva, https://gar.unisdr.org.

[27] UNDRR (2015), Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Geneva, https://www.undrr.org/publication/sendai-framework-disaster-risk-reduction-2015-2030.

[21] UNDRR (n.d.), Disaster Risk Management | UNDRR Terminology, webpage, https://www.undrr.org/terminology/disaster-risk-reduction (accessed on 23 January 2020).

[34] UNFCCC (2019), Progress in the Process to Formulate and Implement National Adaptation Plans: Note by Secretariat, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Bonn, https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/sbi2019_INF.15.pdf.

[26] UNFCCC (2015), Paris Agreement, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Bonn, https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement.

[35] UNFCCC (n.d.), National Adaptation Plans: NAPs from Developing Countries, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Bonn, https://www4.unfccc.int/sites/NAPC/Pages/national-adaptation-plans.aspx (accessed on 13 February 2021).

[17] Vivideconomics (2020), “Greenness of Stimulus Index”, webpage, https://www.vivideconomics.com/casestudy/greenness-for-stimulus-index/ (accessed on 30 July 2020).

[2] WMO (2020), WMO Provisional Report on the State of the Global Climate 2020, World Meteorological Organization, Geneva, https://library.wmo.int/index.php?lvl=notice_display&id=21804#.X_wb9Nj0mUl.

[5] Xu, C. et al. (2020), “Future of the human climate niche”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol. May/201910114, https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1910114117.

Metadata, Legal and Rights

This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area. Extracts from publications may be subject to additional disclaimers, which are set out in the complete version of the publication, available at the link provided.

© OECD 2021

The use of this work, whether digital or print, is governed by the Terms and Conditions to be found at http://www.oecd.org/termsandconditions.