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date: 24 April 2017


This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science. Please check back later for the full article.

Addressing climate resilience has become a political, economic, and ethical challenge of the 21st century. The threats posed by climate change along with associated stresses on water, land, and food security are expected to impact the lives and livelihoods of millions of people around the world. Social systems are also rapidly changing, influenced by aging populations, urbanization, population growth, and global markets. These changes pose major challenges to poverty eradication and livelihood security under a changing climate. In a world that is unpredictable, and consists of vulnerabilities and risks, many people remain poor, marginalized, discriminated against, and dependent on powerful elites.

Resilience is a complicated and evasive concept that has its roots in ecological theory. Increasingly, the concept is used to explore the interface between society and environment. Some consider that resilience is a process and sustainability is an outcome. Resilience is distinct to vulnerability and adaptation but needs to be defined in relation to these concepts. Resilience principles can be used to understand better how societies adapt and transform in the face of climate risk. Nevertheless, resilience is a contested concept. It is often criticized by scholars for the lack of a common definition. It is associated with systems thinking and considered devoid of describing power and agency. Measuring resilience is work still in progress.

Given the practical and conceptual challenges posed by climate change risks, how can resilience as a process help societies to better understand ways to continue to develop under stress for the benefit of societies and the environment? In particular, given that societies’ needs and environmental boundaries are often seen to be in conflict, can resilience be used as a way to reconcile these differences and help trigger ideas for creative transformations under a changing future climate?