Opinion: Why Climate Resiliency isn’t Always Equitable

As we enter in the hottest part of summer with record breaking temperatures and devastating floods, I am often left questioning just how fruitful our climate adaptation plans and designs really are. The conversation surrounding climate change has largely moved away from the urgent calls to action and climate change prevention, and instead to intervention strategies of mitigation, adaptation, and climate resiliency. Resiliency as defined by Judith Rodin, author of “The Resilience Dividend “in an article for The Hill, is “the ability to prepare for disruptions, to recover from shock and stresses and to adapt and grow from disruptive experiences.” One glaring gap in the discourse surrounding climate resiliency is understanding and identifying – who must bear the burden of being resilient? Who must continuously experience and endure these shocks and external induced disruptions of climate change? Climate interventions are positioned as ways to help address climate change’s impact on vulnerable populations, but they can also further harm the same communities they intend to help. What is missing in the discourse surrounding climate change strategies is that in the same way that the impacts of climate change will be felt unevenly, so will the critical outcomes of climate interventions.

In a poignant research article titled “Adding Insult to injury: Climate Change and the Inequities of Climate Intervention,” authors describe climate change as a matter of redistribution and a matter of justice. They state that climate change will birth both winners and losers, therefore reinforcing the divides in our systems of social stratification. As these interventions are realized, the results of these climate response measures and outcomes will also have differentiating outcomes for those most vulnerable. The authors give several examples of how precarious climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies can produce new injuries for those already at risk. In Tanzania, a mitigation program intended to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation has only produced new tensions and resistance as the program jeopardized local livelihoods, with unwarranted evictions and centralized control over forests. How can we as planners, activists and policymakers ensure that these interventions operate as harm reduction strategies rather than inadvertently creating more risk?

The systems of social stratification by race, class and gender are reintegrated and reinforced in the effects of climate change. Climate interventions are not exempt from these systems, nor do they exist in a vacuum. Their outcomes are a direct reflection of those stratifications. ‘Who can afford to be resilient?’ and ‘Who has the power and the resources to be resilient?’ are all questions we should grappling with and striving to answer. Communities with more money, status, and power will have more democratic say when it comes to which climate interventions work for them and which do not. Those who lack those tools will be vulnerable not only to the injuries of climate change they are already experiencing, but now the deepening of those injuries due to the lack of support and representation.

Climate resiliency requires stronger infrastructure, more embedded resource networks, and a prioritization of those who are already experiencing the effects of climate change. There will need to be more emphasis on both political and social protection for those most vulnerable, which may require foregoing the interest of political party agendas. With climate change strategies, we must be wary of not perpetuating the same inequities that climate change has already exacerbated. Understanding what is required of those who bear the responsibility of climate resiliency, and equipping them with agency, autonomy, and resources will help communities better prepare and withstand the shocks and disruptions of climate change.


More on Equitable Climate Resilience:

Equity is key to resilience — three ways make it a priority

Equitable Climate Adaptation Requires Accounting for Disparities in Exposure and Resources


Kendra Hills | [email protected]

Kendra Hills is an intern at Econsult Solutions supporting ESI’s Center for the Future of Cities. She is currently a Master’s student at the University of Pennsylvania, studying city & regional planning with a concentration in smart cities.

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