• <div class="header-image" style="background-image: url(/live/image/gid/4/3040_V7N1_header.rev.1549561230.jpg);"/><div class="header-background-color"/>

Climate Resiliency – How to Cope with Environmental Uncertainty

August 31, 2016
As the science behind climate change becomes nearly universally accepted as fact, climate resiliency has arisen as a popular method to cope with inevitable but often unpredictable environmental shifts. The idea behind climate resiliency is to design systems that can adapt and withstand changing environmental conditions. Examples include roads that conserve water, bridges that survive earthquakes, and buildings that combat shifting ground or sea levels.

By Sarah Hinstorff, C’18

Climate resilient designs are an investment in future infrastructure success. Upfront investment in creating more durable buildings will save money in the long-run. However, experts often struggle to convey this eventual benefit and delayed gratification to the public. Sustainability-minded consumers may request energy efficient building alternatives but climate resilient components rarely come to mind. The exception to this trend appears after natural disasters: talk of resiliency resurges when the public witnesses firsthand how non-resilient infrastructure has failed them.

Resiliency is about being proactive and not reactive. This challenge of conveying the economic, environmental, and sustainability benefits pose great challenges for champions of climate resilient design, but also presents an opportunity for reform and preparation for a stronger, more durable future.

The Importance of Cities

Possible strategies to expand awareness and attention about climate resilience focus on the small scale, rather than attempting to overhaul an entire culture at once. Climate resilience is a bottom-up movement. This means approaching individual construction projects and expanding gradually. In fact, cities are at the forefront of resilient development. Climate resilience experts see opportunity in addressing improvement at the municipal level and then using local successes to catalyze efforts at the state and federal levels.

City-level activism presents an opportunity for impactful reform. In April 2015, Bloomberg Philanthropies launched a domestic initiative to help redesign 100 mid-size American cities, using concrete data and evidence [1]. The approach has allowed a deep investigation into populations’ unique needs and has provided a guide for local governments to lay the framework for national reform. Bloomberg Philanthropies’ action corresponds to rapid global trend of urbanization [2]. According to a 2014 United Nations Study, 54% of the world’s population currently resides in urban areas, and, by 2050, this number is projected to grow to 66% [3].

This increased population within confined urban spaces puts a strain on city infrastructure and residents. Urban areas often harbor the highest levels of pollution – heavy congestion, proximity to industrial areas, and environmental regulations enforcement complications, arise as major roadblocks to improving environmental conditions. Additionally, cities combat unique stresses that do not impact other terrains to the same extent – “equity concerns” [4], diverse populations, intense regulation, and high population concentrations.

A. G. Daniere of the University of Toronto and L. M. Takahashi of the University of California, Irvine published an article in Environmental and Planning C: Government and Policy, discussing the effect of environmental factors on quality of life [5]. Daniere and Takahashi assert that, especially in cities with substantial slum populations, elements such as pollution, sanitation, and access to clean water can feel more immediate to citizens than the rapid urbanization propelling the overall economy forward. They suggest the government and the citizens’ values and behaviors must align in order to successfully accomplish environmental goals.

The growing urban population presents many organizational challenges but also provides opportunities to foster powerful centers of innovation and influence.  The large, compact populations offer a captive audience to engage in sustainability and climate resilience projects. Young people in urban areas are generally more willing to adopt new tactics, innovate, and invest in their own future. Sustainable development efforts in cities will indirectly influence those in surrounding communities. Changing the status quo in cities will cause a movement to disseminate outward to the rest of the country.

Opportunities for the Developing World

Climate change will have a unique impact on developing nations, which lack the resources to invest in climate resilience research and technology. Governments in developing nations often fall short with the tools, scope, and legitimate authority to effectively support their people. Additionally, issues such as infectious disease, access to water, and improper nourishment take precedence over climate issues – when people struggle to live day-to-day, heavy investment in future sustainability efforts appears irrelevant.

As developing nations continue to industrialize at a brisk pace, their growth will be fueled by cheap and accessible fuels that do not prioritize environmental sustainability. Nations must choose between the promise of economic viability and environmental obligations. Developing nations’ existing infrastructure configuration, often designed for an agricultural society, has failed to keep up with the new development model. Modern cities face this challenge of balancing growth and industrialization with an environmental consciousness. Potential solutions to this barrier include developing alternative fuels, regulating unnecessary production resources or byproducts such as emissions, and introducing financial incentives from wealthier nations.

Conflicting priorities between the developing and the industrialized worlds presented a major sticking point during the recent Paris Accords (COP21) Discussions. COP21 drew new attention to the subject of climate resilience [6]. The discussions set the precedence that international cooperation and division of responsibilities will lay the foundation for future climate resilience programs.

The Future of Climate Resilience

Climate resilience differs from other climate adaptation strategies in its positive tone. It is a strategy grounded in future-planning rather than overcoming past disasters. According to the Joint Global Change Research Institute, “Although research in vulnerability and resilience began by emphasizing vulnerability, the focus has shifted at least in part to resilience as a positive concept that can be more integrated with general development goals” [7]. Resilient design will help us prepare for future environmental changes, both in cities and developing areas. Smart infrastructure choices create systems that can adapt and maintain their strength, in the midst of unforeseen challenges. Although we cannot predict the future, we can utilize climate resilient design to best prepare ourselves to cope with the uncertainty.



[1] What Works About Cities. Bloomberg Philanthropies, March 2016. http://whatworkscities.bloomberg.org/about/.

[2] India Smart Cities Mission: Supporting the Design and Delivery of a Cities Challenge. Bloomberg Philanthropies, 2016. http://www.bloomberg.org/program/government-innovation/#india-smart-cities-mission.

[3] World Urbanization Prospects. The United Nations, 2014. https://esa.un.org/unpd/wup/Publications/Files/WUP2014-Highlights.pdf.

[4] Leichenko, Robin. Climate Change and Urban Resilience. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, vol. 3.3, pg. 164-168, May 2011. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877343510001533.

[5] Daniere, A G and Takahashi L M. Environmental Policy in Thailand: Values, Attitudes, and Behavior among the Slum Dwellers of Bangkok. Environmental and Planning C: Government and Policy, vol.15, no. 3, pg. 305-327, September 1997. http://epc.sagepub.com/content/15/3/305.abstract.

[6] Elias-Trostmann, Katerina and Dinshaw, Ayesha. 5 Emerging Trends in Climate Resilience. GreenBiz, 5 July 2016. https://www.greenbiz.com/article/5-emerging-trends-climate-resilience.

[7] Measuring Resilience to Climate Change. Joint Global Change Research Institute. http://www.globalchange.umd.edu/featured-research/measuring-resilience-to-climate-change/.

Student Blog Disclaimer
  • The views expressed on the Student Blog are the author’s opinions and don’t necessarily represent the Wharton Public Policy Initiative’s strategies, recommendations, or opinions.


  • <h3>HUD State of the Cities Data Systems</h3><p><strong><img width="200" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image482 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/200/482_hud_logo.rev.1407788472.jpg 3x" data-max-w="612" data-max-h="613"/>The SOCDS provides data for individual Metropolitan Areas, Central Cities, and Suburbs.</strong> It is a portal for non-national data made available through a number of outside institutions (e.g. Census, BLS, FBI and others).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html" target="_blank">http://www.huduser.org/portal/datasets/socds.html</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Aviation Administration: Accident & Incident Data</h3><p><img width="100" height="100" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image80 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/100/height/100/80_faa-logo.rev.1402681347.jpg 3x" data-max-w="550" data-max-h="550"/>The NTSB issues an accident report following each investigation. These reports are available online for reports issued since 1996, with older reports coming online soon. The reports listing is sortable by the event date, report date, city, and state.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/" target="_blank">http://www.faa.gov/data_research/accident_incident/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Bureau of Economic Research (Public Use Data Archive)</h3><p><img width="180" height="43" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/43/478_nber.rev.1407530465.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image478 lw_align_right" data-max-w="329" data-max-h="79"/>Founded in 1920, the <strong>National Bureau of Economic Research</strong> is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization dedicated to promoting a greater understanding of how the economy works. The NBER is committed to undertaking and disseminating unbiased economic research among public policymakers, business professionals, and the academic community.</p><p> Quick Link to <strong>Public Use Data Archive</strong>: <a href="http://www.nber.org/data/" target="_blank">http://www.nber.org/data/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The Penn World Table</h3><p> The Penn World Table provides purchasing power parity and national income accounts converted to international prices for 189 countries/territories for some or all of the years 1950-2010.</p><p><a href="https://pwt.sas.upenn.edu/php_site/pwt71/pwt71_form.php" target="_blank">Quick link.</a> </p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>National Center for Education Statistics</h3><p><strong><img width="400" height="80" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/400/height/80/479_nces.rev.1407787656.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image479 lw_align_right" data-max-w="400" data-max-h="80"/>The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing data related to education in the U.S. and other nations.</strong> NCES is located within the U.S. Department of Education and the Institute of Education Sciences. NCES has an extensive Statistical Standards Program that consults and advises on methodological and statistical aspects involved in the design, collection, and analysis of data collections in the Center. To learn more about the NCES, <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/about/" target="_blank">click here</a>.</p><p> Quick link to NCES Data Tools: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/datatools/index.asp?DataToolSectionID=4</a></p><p> Quick link to Quick Tables and Figures: <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/quicktables/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCES Fast Facts (Note: The primary purpose of the Fast Facts website is to provide users with concise information on a range of educational issues, from early childhood to adult learning.): <a href="http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/" target="_blank">http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/#</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>NOAA National Climatic Data Center</h3><p><img width="200" height="198" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image483 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/200/height/198/483_noaa_logo.rev.1407788692.jpg 3x" data-max-w="954" data-max-h="945"/>NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) is responsible for preserving, monitoring, assessing, and providing public access to the Nation’s treasure of <strong>climate and historical weather data and information</strong>.</p><p> Quick link to home page: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/</a></p><p> Quick link to NCDC’s climate and weather datasets, products, and various web pages and resources: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/quick-links</a></p><p> Quick link to Text & Map Search: <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/" target="_blank">http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cdo-web/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Internal Revenue Service: Tax Statistics</h3><p><img width="155" height="200" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image486 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/155/height/200/486_irs_logo.rev.1407789424.jpg 2x" data-max-w="463" data-max-h="596"/>Find statistics on business tax, individual tax, charitable and exempt organizations, IRS operations and budget, and income (SOI), as well as statistics by form, products, publications, papers, and other IRS data.</p><p> Quick link to <strong>Tax Statistics, where you will find a wide range of tables, articles, and data</strong> that describe and measure elements of the U.S. tax system: <a href="http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2" target="_blank">http://www.irs.gov/uac/Tax-Stats-2</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>MapStats</h3><p> A feature of FedStats, MapStats allows users to search for <strong>state, county, city, congressional district, or Federal judicial district data</strong> (demographic, economic, and geographic).</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/" target="_blank">http://www.fedstats.gov/mapstats/</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Congressional Budget Office</h3><p><img width="180" height="180" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/180/380_cbo-logo.rev.1406822035.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image380 lw_align_right" data-max-w="180" data-max-h="180"/>Since its founding in 1974, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has produced independent analyses of budgetary and economic issues to support the Congressional budget process.</p><p> The agency is strictly nonpartisan and conducts objective, impartial analysis, which is evident in each of the dozens of reports and hundreds of cost estimates that its economists and policy analysts produce each year. CBO does not make policy recommendations, and each report and cost estimate discloses the agency’s assumptions and methodologies. <strong>CBO provides budgetary and economic information in a variety of ways and at various points in the legislative process.</strong> Products include baseline budget projections and economic forecasts, analysis of the President’s budget, cost estimates, analysis of federal mandates, working papers, and more.</p><p> Quick link to Products page: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/about/our-products</a></p><p> Quick link to Topics: <a href="http://www.cbo.gov/topics" target="_blank">http://www.cbo.gov/topics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>Federal Reserve Economic Data (FRED®)</h3><p><strong><img width="180" height="79" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/79/481_fred-logo.rev.1407788243.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image481 lw_align_right" data-max-w="222" data-max-h="97"/>An online database consisting of more than 72,000 economic data time series from 54 national, international, public, and private sources.</strong> FRED®, created and maintained by Research Department at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, goes far beyond simply providing data: It combines data with a powerful mix of tools that help the user understand, interact with, display, and disseminate the data.</p><p> Quick link to data page: <a href="http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series" target="_blank">http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/tags/series</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>The World Bank Data (U.S.)</h3><p><img width="130" height="118" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image484 lw_align_left" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/130/height/118/484_world-bank-logo.rev.1407788945.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1406" data-max-h="1275"/>The <strong>World Bank</strong> provides World Development Indicators, Surveys, and data on Finances and Climate Change.</p><p> Quick link: <a href="http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states" target="_blank">http://data.worldbank.org/country/united-states</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>
  • <h3>USDA Nutrition Assistance Data</h3><p><img width="180" height="124" alt="" src="/live/image/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg" class="lw_image lw_image485 lw_align_right" srcset="/live/image/scale/2x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 2x, /live/image/scale/3x/gid/4/width/180/height/124/485_usda_logo.rev.1407789238.jpg 3x" data-max-w="1233" data-max-h="850"/>Data and research regarding the following <strong>USDA Nutrition Assistance</strong> programs are available through this site:</p><ul><li>Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) </li><li>Food Distribution Programs </li><li>School Meals </li><li>Women, Infants and Children </li></ul><p> Quick link: <a href="http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics" target="_blank">http://www.fns.usda.gov/data-and-statistics</a></p><p>See all <a href="/data-resources/">data and resources</a> »</p>