Over the past decades, few concepts have gained such prominence as resilience. There has been an explosion of research and policies into ways to promote resilient systems, but the content has often lacked a clear definition of what resilience actually means, let alone how it fits with development issues
Resilience is the capacity of a system, be it an individual, a forest, a city or an economy, to deal with change and continue to develop. It is about how humans and nature can use shocks and disturbances like a financial crisis or climate change to spur renewal and innovative thinking.
Resilience starts from the belief that humans and nature are strongly coupled to the point that they should be conceived as one social-ecological system. This means that in our globalized society, there are virtually no ecosystems that are not shaped by people and no people without the need for ecosystems and the services they provide.
Resilience thinking is about generating increased knowledge about how we can strengthen the capacity to deal with the stresses caused by environmental change. It is about finding ways to deal with unexpected events and crises and identifying sustainable ways for humans to live within the Earth’s boundaries.
Resilience thinking challenges the development status quo in three ways:
Development is no longer only about the local perspective. Local development is linked to global change, and local events have global consequences; biodiversity loss, migration, disease outbreaks, climate change, and trade. Development efforts must take into account these forces and the uncertain impacts they have.
Without oceans and forests, air and ice, waterways and rich biodiversity, humanity will not survive, let alone thrive. Development in the Anthropocene must be good for the Earth’s life support system, and help a growing population to weather future storms. Wellbeing, poverty alleviation, and, global sustainability – people and the planet – are deeply linked.
Improving human wellbeing for all in the Anthropocene will require radical and transformative change. Development actions should support people to thrive within changing circumstances. With this approach, our new reality is as much an opportunity as it is a challenge.