2. Aspirations for strengthening climate resilience

Poverty eradication and economic development are key priorities for most governments, especially in developing countries. This has become an even more pressing concern as governments around the world are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. By February 2021, over 2 million lives had been lost and billons more affected by the economic impacts of responses to the pandemic. The UN World Food Programme estimated that over 270 million people were acutely food insecure in 2020, an 82% increase compared to the pre-COVID estimate (WFP, 2020[1]). The socio-economic crises further threaten to push around 100 million people into poverty and 70 million into extreme poverty, contributing to an increase in global poverty levels for the first time since 1990 (Mahler et al., 2020[2]).

COVID-19 policy responses and recovery packages initially focused on saving lives and health. This was in most cases followed by a focus on preserving and creating jobs, sustaining livelihoods and maintaining income to limit the adverse impact on the economy (OECD, 2020[3]). The environmental sustainability of the response and recovery measures has been questioned. Some analysts contend the measures risk further exacerbating the looming emergencies associated with climate change and biodiversity loss (Vivideconomics, 2020[4]; CarbonBrief, 2020[5]; OECD, 2020[6]; Buckle et al., 2020[7]).

Climate change, compounded by other stressors such as poverty and inequality, threatens the ability of countries to achieve sustainable development objectives (Kharas and Hamel, 2020[8]; Hallegatte et al., 2016[9]). The international community has collectively agreed to limit global average temperature increase and to strengthen resilience (UNFCCC, 2015[10]). Climate-resilient development pathways consist of strategies and actions to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and to strengthen climate resilience to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (IPCC, 2014[11]) (Box 2.1). Such development pathways are shaped by iterative processes for managing change within complex systems to reduce disruption and enhance capacities to manage risks (IPCC, 2018[12]).

Efforts to strengthen climate resilience will be needed under any climate scenario. However, the scale, extent and nature of these efforts will substantially differ if, say, global average temperatures were to increase by 1.5°C compared to 4°C (IPCC, 2018[12]). Uncertainties of the response of the climate system to GHG emissions are compounded by uncertainties in how those responses may translate into impacts on the ground (IPCC, 2014[13]). These uncertainties also limit the applicability of historical data to understand future climate risks and even the appropriateness of predicting impacts in a probabilistic manner (Adger, Brown and Surminski, 2018[14]; Buurman and Babovic, 2016[15]; Cavallo and Ireland, 2014[16]; IPCC, 2019[17]). Instead, an overview of the envelope of possible impacts, including extremes, is needed rather than just the most likely outcome (Weaver et al., 2017[18]). Uncertainty in socio-economic and technological contexts also greatly affects the decision making on climate action. Scientific information based on climate models and weather data needs to be complemented with information on other ecological, economic and social factors that drive risks.

The intrinsic uncertainty, however, must not prevent efforts to both mitigate risks and to strengthen resilience, given the costs of inaction or delayed action (Ayeb-Karlsson, Fox and Kniveton, 2019[19]). Decision-making processes can be effective in taking the agenda forward, if they address the inherent uncertainty of the understanding of climate change and can be adjusted as future changes unfold, or are sufficiently robust to perform well under a wide range of conditions (Ayeb-Karlsson, Fox and Kniveton, 2019[19]; UCS, 2016[20]). Such flexible and robust decision-making processes rely on institutional structures that encourage and facilitate learning, either through innovation and peer learning or the monitoring and evaluation of actions.

A range of approaches exist for decision making under uncertainty. Storyline approaches, for example, combine climate information with other ecological, economic and social factors. Rather than asking what will happen, storyline approaches focus on the impact of particular actions in a context where future changes in the climate are uncertain (Shepherd, 2019[21]). Dynamic Adaptive Policy Pathways instead call on planners to establish a framework for action. This framework would be informed by a strategic vision of the future and guided by short-term actions that can be adjusted to reflect changing circumstances (Haasnoot et al., 2013[22]). Alternative approaches to support decision making under uncertainty also include Multi-criteria Analysis, Robust Decision Making, Real Options Analysis and Portfolio Analysis (see (OECD, 2015[23]) and Chapter 3.1). Common to all these approaches is the explicit recognition of the interconnectedness, non-linearity, feedbacks and thresholds across different systems and impacts, and the need to take a broader systems approach.

The focus of this Guidance on climate resilience refers to the capacity of human and natural systems to learn, adapt and transform in response to risks that are induced or exacerbated by climate variability and change. Climate risks result from the interaction of the following (IPCC, 2018[12]):

  • climate-related hazards and the likelihood of their occurrence

  • exposure of human and natural systems to those hazards

  • vulnerability (i.e. sensitivity or susceptibility) of affected systems to climate-related hazards.

Climate resilience is embedded within the broader notion of resilience of systems to cope with hazardous events, trends or disturbances. This implies links to various governance, social, economic and environmental factors, and the interaction among them (see also Box 1.2 on definitions of key concepts).

Global commitments on development, including the Paris Agreement and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, recognise the importance of enhanced resilience across sectors and scales. The Paris Agreement establishes “the global goal on adaptation of enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change, with a view to contributing to sustainable development” (Article 7.1) (UNFCCC, 2015[10]). A priority of the Sendai Framework is “investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience”, highlighting the importance of public and private investment in disaster risk prevention and reduction to strengthen the economic, social, health and cultural resilience of people, communities and countries (UNDRR, 2015[24]). Two other considerations are increasingly recognised as crucial in the pursuit of the SDGs: risk-informed development (a decision-making process to enable development that takes account of complex risks) (Opitz-Stapleton et al., 2019[25]) and comprehensive risk management (to assess, reduce, transfer and retain risks) (UNFCCC, 2019[26]; BMZ, 2019[27]).

The COVID-19 pandemic has raised people’s awareness about the importance of strengthening the resilience of society to different types of shocks. The urgent need to respond to the health emergency and to recover from the economic crisis can, however, overshadow other risks linked to environmental sustainability, including climate change and biodiversity loss. If left unchecked, the direct impacts of climate change on lives and livelihoods, as well as the indirect economic, social and political impacts, will lead to further and in some cases irreversible damages. The populations already living in poverty, or otherwise marginalised or facing discrimination, with limited capacity to address their vulnerabilities or exposure to hazards, are most at risks in terms of their livelihoods.

Different actors have different needs and capacities to manage climate risks, whether financial, environmental, human or social. A focus on climate resilience therefore begs the question of resilience for whom, for what, and over what timeframe. Lessons from fragile contexts provide a reminder of potential disagreements on the nature of risks and how to address them (see Box 2.2). In some cases, decisions by people in power may even put segments of the population at greater risk.

Policy makers have different tools that can make climate risks tangible and manageable. These range from engineering design standards and environmental labelling to economic incentives that can also steer decisions in directions that help reduce risk (GCA, 2019[29]). The availability of such policy tools, however, does not guarantee their enforcement (OECD, 2020[30]). Further, they may not sufficiently address issues associated with feedbacks in the systems and relationships between elements of a human or natural system in question. Application of these policy tools must therefore be guided by a good understanding of the synergies, trade-offs and feedbacks between different approaches, the interaction of climate-related impacts with social, environmental and economic drivers across spatial and temporal scales. Close collaboration between science, policy and practice can support this process (Zscheischler et al., 2020[31]). Several knowledge products are also available to support policy makers, development co-operation providers and other non-state actors in developing and implementing approaches to strengthening climate resilience. Some documents and platforms provide strategic direction and guidance (see examples in Box 2.3). Others are thematic and sector-specific tools, methodologies and compilations of good practice, discussed in Chapters 3 and 4.

Approaches to strengthening climate resilience will be context-specific, informed by the climate risks and the underlying hazards, exposures and vulnerabilities, as well as the broader development context. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is centred on economic, social and environmental sustainability. It recognises the prerequisites of ending poverty and hunger; combating inequalities; leaving no one behind; and protecting the rights and dignity of all segments of society, the most vulnerable in particular (UN, 2015[39]). Many of these high-level objectives or aspirations are also reflected in the Paris Agreement that highlights the importance of inclusive processes, the rights of all people, the particular needs of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and the need to preserve the environment, to name just a few (UNFCCC, 2015[10]). These aspirations are also highlighted in other international agreements that contribute to the broader development agenda such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the New Urban Agenda.

Taking note of these high-level objectives, the rest of this chapter focuses on three aspirations that governments and development co-operation should consider when developing and implementing climate resilience measures:

  • country ownership

  • inclusive approaches

  • environmental and social sustainability.

These aspirations highlight the importance of ensuring that measures in support of climate action do not exacerbate current vulnerabilities or create new ones. Instead, they should support broader sustainable development. They present measures for consideration rather than a prescription for action.

A focus on country ownership highlights the role of individual countries in determining their own development pathways, and within that, their response to global challenges including climate change. In this Guidance, country ownership encompasses the role of both national and sub-national governments, as well as that of non-state actors. In the context of development co-operation, country ownership is defined by the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation as “the aspiration by which countries determine their own development priorities and based on these, define, lead and implement their preferred model of development” (OECD/UNDP, 2016[40]). For climate resilience, this entails a focus on countries’ specific climate risks and their experience of known and tested approaches. The ease of securing country ownership to strengthen climate resilience will also depend on the extent to which climate resilience is prioritised in national development objectives, and reflected in governance arrangements and policy cycles (OECD, 2009[41]).

Country ownership was central to the successful adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015. This is illustrated by the submission of over 180 Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) by Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). With the ratification of the Paris Agreement, the INDCs became Nationally Determined Contributions outlining domestic contributions to the objectives of the Agreement. The Paris Agreement requests Parties to engage with sub-national actors to build their capacity in a way that fosters their ownership of activities and responds to countries’ needs for climate action effectively (UNFCCC, 2015[10]). National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), established under the UNFCCC, are also a country-driven process to identify priority actions to strengthen climate resilience and integrate them into national and sectoral development plans and budgets.

Many countries have made considerable progress in establishing multi-level, and cross-sectoral co-ordination mechanisms. However, fragile contexts or countries with weak institutions may not have a central body to co-ordinate and oversee the process. In these cases, the capacity of governance systems to manage risks may be weak as well. Further, they may not consider all members of society equally. In other contexts, such as states in conflict, the government will intrinsically be divided, limiting the notion of country ownership and what it represents to only a segment of the population. In such contexts, decision-making processes can be characterised by pervasive mistrust among different stakeholders rather than inclusive considerations of climate resilience priorities (Chambote and Shankland, 2011[42]). A national co-ordination mechanism will also have limited ability to advance climate resilience objectives if it lacks legitimacy, capacity and accountability measures (Watson-Grant, Xiong and Thomas, 2016[43]; Peterson Carvalho, 19 July 2013[44]; OECD/UNDP, 2019[45]; Peters et al., 2020[46]; Crawford et al., 2015[47]).

Experience suggests that approaches to climate resilience led by sub-national and non-state actors can be well suited to address climate vulnerabilities (Carothers, 2015[48]; Keijzer et al., 2018[49]; LIFE-AR, 2019[50]) (see examples in Box 2.4). Sub-national and non-state actors can also play an important role in piloting and testing climate resilience measures at the local level. Lessons learnt from the pilots should, in turn, inform the development of national-level policies and plans to enable the scale-up of successful approaches over time.

This Guidance recognises the importance of a whole-of-society approach. In practice, non-state actors often have limited access to decision-making processes, including those related to domestic finance allocation and access to international climate finance. This is partly because they are usually not a united entity but rather a complex web of actors with diverse objectives, interests or ability to engage in national processes (RC&D, 2017[51]). In some countries, most businesses operate in the informal sector, making it harder to engage in decision-making processes on policies, plans and projects for climate resilience (Casado Asensio, Kato and Shin, forthcoming[52]).

Development co-operation plays a role in supporting country-owned and -led processes for climate resilience. Evaluation of development assistance, including for climate finance, suggests that country ownership facilitates more effective development and climate-related results (UNSD, 2018[55]; GCF IEU, 2019[56]; Sherman and Ford, 2014[57]). A greater level of ownership will also likely enhance the continuity of policy interventions supported by governments and development co-operation. Yet this notion of ownership is often ambiguous (e.g. what to be owned and by whom) and varies across contexts. The approach of development co-operation to country-owned processes will also be influenced by the values of individual providers and the associated policy standards and commitments. Governments of developing countries have improved the overall quality of national development planning over recent years. However, alignment of approaches by development co-operation to priorities of developing countries and country-owned results frameworks, as well as in-country planning and budget preparation systems, is declining (GCF IEU, 2019[56]; Ye Zou and Ockenden, 2016[58]; OECD/UNDP, 2019[45]) (see Box 2.5).

Country ownership is also recognised in the guiding principles for international climate funds such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the Global Environment Facility and the Adaptation Fund. The GCF, for instance, pursues country ownership through the establishment of National Designated Authorities, collaboration with Accredited Entities for direct access, engagement with various stakeholders including civil society organisations (CSOs) and the private sector, and the country programming processes (GCF, 2017[59]). On broader development co-operation agendas, the Busan Partnership Agreement for Effective Development Co-operation also recognises country ownership as one of four principles of effective development co-operation. Other international agreements highlight country ownership as a guiding principle as well (see Table 2.1).

Central to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is making both development processes and their outcomes inclusive so that no one is left behind. This also applies to the context of climate resilience. LDCs and poorer segments of the population are often especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The same is true for those marginalised or discriminated against on the basis of, for example, their gender, ethnicity, and sexual or political orientation. These factors intersect with each other to shape individual identities (e.g. women in a marginalised Indigenous community) that influence exposure and vulnerability to climate hazards (Chaplin, Twigg and Lovell, 2019[61]; Djoudi et al., 2016[62]).

Efforts to strengthen climate resilience must embrace three principles. First, they must ensure that progress for one group or country does not compromise that of another. Second, they must target the needs of the most vulnerable. Finally, associated benefits must be equitably shared across stakeholder groups. Unless carefully managed, efforts to strengthen climate resilience can also imply trade-offs with other development objectives (IPCC, 2014[63]; UNEP, 2019[64]). For instance, increased fertiliser and pesticide use may increase economic resilience of the agriculture sector but it can also cause loss of ecosystem services and increased water scarcity (IPCC, 2018[12]).

Approaches to climate resilience that prioritise the most vulnerable require a good understanding of underlying factors that drive their specific vulnerabilities and explicit consideration of existing wealth and power dynamics (Dazé, 2019[65]). Inclusive approaches facilitate and value the contribution of both state and non-state actors, such as community-based organisations, the private sector, CSOs and academia to identify, prioritise, finance and implement climate resilience measures (see Chapter 3 for further discussion). Indigenous and natural resource-dependent communities, for example, have established traditions of responding to changes in the climate by drawing on local knowledge, social systems, cultural values and norms. These can also provide valuable input to national processes (UNESCO, 2017[66]).

Inclusive stakeholder processes are time- and resource-intensive. Even when prioritised, it can be difficult to incentivise stakeholder participation due to competing demands for their time, limited awareness of the climate risks and insufficient capacity to actively engage (Sherman and Ford, 2014[57]). In some cases, administrative procedures for non-state actors to participate in policy dialogues are cumbersome, discouraging their engagement in decision-making processes on policies (Casado Asensio, Kato and Shin, forthcoming[52]). At the same time, representation and participation in decision-making processes on their own do not result in inclusive development outcomes (OECD, 2020[6]).

The three sub-sections below briefly highlight the role of gender equality and engagement by the private sector and CSOs in pursuing an inclusive approach to climate resilience. However, there are also other important considerations to keep in mind. These include the risks to different segments of society that are marginalised by e.g. their age, (dis)ability, race, class or beliefs [see e.g. (HelpAge International, 2019[67]; GFDRR, 2018[68]; Handicap International, 2017[69])], or the circumstances of minority and Indigenous groups’ vulnerability to climate change and their role in climate action [see e.g. (ILO, 2017[70]; Minority Rights Group International, 2019[71])].

A focus on gender is an important means of addressing vulnerability of society to climate change. Social norms, gender division of labour, disadvantaged access to resources and information, and the prevalence of gender-based violence may increase women’s exposure and vulnerability to climate hazards. Women at the same time play an active role in negotiating and adapting to changes brought upon their lives and those of their family members by climate change (Huyer and Partey, 2020[72]). However, prevailing norms can limit their potential as agents of change. International commitments and initiatives have recognised the importance of gender equality and the ability of both women and men to access resources for and benefits of climate resilience. Different tools have been developed to guide the integration of gender considerations into climate-related policies, programmes and institutions (see section 3.1).

Private-sector engagement in climate resilience is deepening and broadening. It ranges from large corporations and small businesses to groups that represent the interests of the private sector such as industry associations, chambers of commerce and co-operatives (UNEP DTU Partnership, 2018[73]; UNDP, 2018[74]; Casado Asensio, Kato and Shin, forthcoming[52]). The private sector continuously adjusts its operations to the changing context of the business environment. Climate change, however, is making such adjustments increasingly difficult by adding new challenges. These include the financial viability of climate resilience projects, uncertainty of the predicted impacts of climate change on individual businesses, and lack of awareness and knowledge about potential solutions to manage climate risks (UNEP DTU Partnership, 2018[73]; Crawford and Church, 2019[75]; Casado Asensio, Kato and Shin, forthcoming[52]).

CSOs can reach people on the frontlines of poverty, inequality and vulnerability, and complement – or in some cases – assume the roles of the public sector. This makes them an integral part to fulfilling the 2030 Agenda, including on climate resilience (OECD, 2020[76]; Casado Asensio, Kato and Shin, forthcoming[52]). Through dialogue and advocacy, CSOs can bring into public policy processes the perspectives of marginalised members of society who may not be able to participate due to the perceptions of their identities by society (OECD, 2020[76]). CSOs in remote communities can also help bring attention to local climate risks and vulnerabilities, including in national policy processes (Mascarinas, 2016[77]). CSOs also play an important role in supporting the implementation of climate resilience measures by governments or development co-operation providers (Mascarinas, 2016[77]). In some cases, CSOs can also support local communities in accessing climate data and information by connecting them with, for instance, research institutions and National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (Canales, 2011[78]). Despite these important roles, gaps remain in the effectiveness and accountability of CSOs’ development activities. These gaps have led to concerns among development co-operation providers about CSOs’ legitimacy, their results and the challenges of co-ordination between CSOs and government agencies (OECD, 2020[76]). Overcoming these challenges will require commitment and resources by all actors involved, including governments and providers of development co-operation.

Action on climate resilience is closely linked with that on protecting and sustainably managing the natural environment. Healthy wetlands, forests and coastal systems, for example, provide ecosystem services that can help mitigate the impacts of weather- and climate-related hazards. At the same time, climate change is among the key drivers of the unprecedented loss of biodiversity (IPBES, 2019[79]). This interacts with non-climatic drivers of environmental degradation, such as population growth and lifestyle choices that increase demand for natural resources. Approaches to strengthening climate resilience must avoid generating further pressures on local and global biodiversity. Efforts for climate resilience should instead be aligned with regulatory measures to protect the environment and restore, manage and conserve ecosystems.

The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of healthy natural systems for human health, well-being and the economy. The exploitation of wildlife and the degradation of ecosystems have increased the risk of zoonotic diseases (that jump from animals to humans) (OECD, 2020[80]). At the same time, the COVID-19 crisis has revealed the potentially catastrophic risk of not building resilience to well-known risks. The risks of pandemics were clear following the SARS, MERS and Ebola outbreaks, but the experiences did not adequately prepare most countries for future pandemics or spur action to reduce risks.

The environment has for decades been positioned within the development paradigm as one pillar alongside economic and social objectives. In practice, however, many governments and practitioners often assume trade-offs between the environment and economic growth (Elder and Olsen, 2019[81]). The 2030 Agenda calls for a more integrated approach, as illustrated by the SDGs that explicitly focus on the environment (SDG 6 Clean Water and Sanitation; SDG 13 Climate Action; SDG 14 Life Below Water; SDG 15 Life on Land) and the environment-related targets included in the other SDGs (see Table 2.2). This integrated approach to development represents an important milestone for the environment agenda. However, the focus has largely remained on achieving both economic growth and environmental management rather than on questioning the sustainability of development models (Elder and Olsen, 2019[81]). There may also be a range of trade-offs between different environment-related targets in implementing such integrated approaches.

The role of the natural environment in strengthening climate resilience is increasingly recognised. Nature-based solutions are “measures that protect, sustainably manage or restore natural capital, with the goal of maintaining or enhancing ecosystem services to address a variety of social, environmental and economic challenges” (OECD, 2020[82]). The use of nature-based solutions has been increasing in developing and developed countries, with evidence emerging of the value and multiple benefits of such approaches (University of Oxford, n.d.[83]; UNEP, 2019[84]). Examples include forest conservation in Chile to reduce landslides and avalanches while enhancing carbon sequestration; wetland restoration in Nepal to secure water supplies; and improved mangrove management in El Salvador to restore water flows and reduce downstream flooding (Jones and Reid, 2019[85]).

Despite the documented benefits of nature-based solutions, their uptake continues to be limited. This can be partly explained by their characteristics, such as the time lag between implementation and the materialisation of the benefits; the spatial scales; and the dynamic nature of ecosystems that increase uncertainty in planning. Additionally, gaps in governance arrangements, policies, regulatory requirements, capacity and funding and financing mechanisms can all prevent nature-based solutions from being considered on equal footing with other options (OECD, 2020[82]).

A focus on social sustainability and well-being benefits, complementary to environmental sustainability, is also a crucial consideration for seizing opportunities to pursue climate-resilient development pathways (IPCC, 2018[12]). Achieving social sustainability includes meeting physical, emotional and social needs of current and future generations (Rogers et al., 2012[86]). An essential element of social sustainability is equity and broader well-being considerations, such as income and gender equality, health, housing, jobs and labour rights, cultural identity, social stability and public participation (Mensah, 2017[87]; Saith, 2006[88]; Munzel, Meyer-Waarden and Galan, 2018[89]).

The OECD well-being framework measures societal progress through the improvement of people’s current and future well-being (Figure 2.2). When applied to the context of climate action, people’s well-being must be placed at the centre of decision-making processes to increase the political and social support for more ambitious mitigation action and to overcome barriers for change (OECD, 2019[90]). A similar people-centred approach, focused on well-being, is also essential for addressing the vulnerability and exposure of people to the looming emergencies associated with climate change and biodiversity loss (OECD, 2019[90]).


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