Photo Credit: 25 May 2015

COP 21: Spotlight on Resilience

If you’ve been following the first week of COP21 events, you’ve likely noticed there’s one word consistently in the spotlight – ‘resilience.’ Over the last decade, resilience has moved from the field of ecology to a central concept in debates on climate change adaptation, vulnerability, food security and disaster risk reduction. While definitions differ, resilience at its heart focuses on the ability of people and ecosystems to recover after a shock.

In the face of rapid climate change and extreme weather events, building the resilience of vulnerable areas has become a goal for the international community. However, resilience is an abstract concept that can be difficult to quantify. How do we know if a community is becoming more resilient? What metrics and framework can we use to tell if a resilience project is actually attaining its goals?

Over the last year, I’ve been exploring these questions with the Yale Himalaya Initiative (YHI) on a team with Dr. Alark Saxena and Benjamin Cohen (MEM/MBA 2017). In partnership with Lutheran World Relief (LWR), we are piloting an approach to measure the resilience of monsoon flood-affected villages along the Gandak River Basin on either side of the Nepal-India border. Our approach, based on the sustainable livelihoods framework, considers resilience through six different forms of capital (social, financial, human, natural, physical and political), moderated through processes and institutions.

Through surveys and focus group discussions at four time points over two years, the YHI-LWR team is gathering data on over 100 indicators, grouped according to the different SLF capitals. In doing so, the tool can help indicate the success of the project by measuring the magnitude of flooding impacts, pre- and post-intervention, and the time it takes households to return to the pre-flood state following a flood.

Our project is just one of many concurrent efforts from multiple organizations attempting to better understand and quantify the idea of resilience. The resilience space is ripe for innovation, learning and rich discussion, and COP21 presents ample opportunities to advance this dialogue through a plethora of side events.

With my COP21 adventure kicking off tomorrow, I already have a full schedule of resilience-related events to attend and stakeholders to meet. Through these events, I’ll be sharing the YHI-LWR tool and approach; discovering how others are tackling the measurement challenge; and learning how our tool might be adapted to other contexts and locations- from sea-level rise in Pacific Small Island states to mountainous regions in Lesotho.


Photo Credit: “Five Bihar districts on high alert following Nepal’s Kali Gandaki River overflow threat.” 25 May 2015.