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Review and comment on draft position statement: Building Resilience

Your input is needed on AGU’s draft revised position statement on resilience, which is open for member comment from 1-31 October 2021.

A panel of AGU experts revised the resilience position statement as part of a recurring four-year review process to reflect current research and understanding of the issue. The expert panel relies on member comments to finalize the draft (and to send to the AGU Council and Board for approval) to ensure that the community’s views and the science are reflected accurately, so please take the time to comment.

Comment Form for AGU's Resilience Draft Statement


Statement Draft

Building resilience requires partnerships between scientists, policymakers and communities

The challenges facing the world today – pandemics, climate change, environmental degradation – are inextricably linked to each other and to human systems and actions. To not only cope with but to thrive in the face of these challenges requires research and solutions that account for these linkages and focus on the most impacted communities.

The Resilience Challenge

Improving resilience requires solutions that are centered on the needs of disproportionately impacted communities and grounded in an understanding of the complex interactions within and between social, technological and environmental systems.

Resilience[1] is the ability of systems and their parts — including people — to anticipate, respond, recover and adapt when a disruption occurs. Disruptions include acute events, such as floods, earthquakes or landslides, as well as long-term events, such as pandemics, social unrest, water shortages, food shortages and climate change. In addition to developing the scientific knowledge necessary to understand and anticipate the consequences of natural hazards, improving resilience involves addressing issues of both vulnerability[2] and exposure to such disruptions, as well as understanding people’s varied capacity to cope with extremes.

Vulnerability refers to systemic inequalities in the distribution of resources, status and risk that are revealed through society’s encounters with hazards. Exposure refers to people’s presence in harm’s way, as well as that of the social, technological and environmental systems in which they live and work. Social, racial, ethnic, gender, ability and economic inequities have led to disparate distributions of vulnerability and exposure.

Social, technological and environmental connections

Humans are inextricably connected to each other and to the natural environment. Because of these deep connections, natural hazards can over-stress systems — water supply, food distribution, waste collection, supply chains, communications, emergency services — and have cascading consequences for which we are not prepared. These dynamics can be amplified when multiple incidents strike at the same time, resulting in compound hazards with complex interactions.

Our resilience will continue to be challenged as climate change, urbanization, population growth, climate migration and deforestation[3] exacerbate the magnitude, frequency and impacts of events such as hurricanes, extreme storms, floods, droughts, extreme heat waves, wildfires, sea level rise and disease[4]. Disruptions are already becoming more complex in their short- and long-term environmental, social and economic impacts.

Science can be applied to reduce risks posed by these complex processes and their cascading consequences. This can be done through funding scientific research and monitoring systems in the relevant sciences, multi- and transdisciplinary collaboration, and scenario development. This means improving multi-sector connections between scientists, practitioners, policymakers and civil society.

Research and education priorities

For the scientific community, the following priorities should guide future research, education and training in order to build resilience:

Interdisciplinary science must be incorporated into research and training to build resilience of interconnected social, technological and environmental systems. Research, training and collaborations across disciplinary (including the natural and social sciences, engineering and design) and geographic boundaries must be incentivized and supported through modernized funding mechanisms, educational programs and reward systems. Solutions, ranging from policy revisions to changes in the built environment to the establishment of effective early warning systems, should be developed to address threats posed by multiple hazards rather than single hazard events.

Participatory research should be used to inform the best strategies for building resilience and to ensure that outcomes are implemented by local and regional decision makers. Participatory research projects are co-developed with communities. Future participatory research will benefit from sustained partnerships with communities, especially those historically underrepresented, and the incorporation of traditional and local knowledge. Community science programs should be leveraged to improve capacity and ultimate acceptance of possible solutions. Accordingly, scientists and funding agencies should ensure that science answers to community needs and informs smart investments.

Effective communication should be the rule, not the exception. In addition to scientific journal articles, research results must be conveyed to decision makers and society in other evidence-based formats that resonate with target audiences over multiple timescales. This includes communicating new findings in ways that are innovative and socially relevant.

The path forward

The path toward improved resilience and reduced risks from all types of disruptions requires a diverse workforce to ensure the greatest breadth of input and perspectives are reflected in solutions. Three areas of focus are needed to make progress:

Prioritize vulnerable communities: Resilience policies and programs that address the most vulnerable — whose needs are often greatest — will have the most significant impact on improving justice in disaster response and recovery. These policies should be informed by participatory science that centers on social and physical vulnerabilities.

Quantify the co-benefits of resilience planning: Investments in resilience planning can be used to achieve multiple outcomes, including both direct benefits (e.g., the mitigation of dollars lost and buildings damaged) and co-benefits (e.g., improved individual and community health and well-being, ecosystem restoration, and the economy). Research and informed resilience policies are needed to account for the contributions of social, cultural and environmental assets, as well as ecosystem services, towards these co-benefits.

Connect risk management and adaptation to climate change: Solutions for building resilience and recovering from disasters must recognize the need to adapt to the effects of climate change that are already impacting systems and communities. Nature-based solutions, sustainable development practices, ecosystem restoration and resource conservation should be incentivized and prioritized across all sectors in recognition of the co-benefits of these practices.[5]

Revamp funding models to invest in both communities and scientists: New funding models for resilience initiatives should include incentives for both researchers and communities to incentivize collaboration, to reward inclusivity and, most importantly, to reduce the barriers to participation and implementation. In addition, funding opportunities need to address the need for continued investments in scientific monitoring and modeling, as well as addressing resilience needs at multiple scales, including long-term investments at a national scale.


Building resilience requires partnerships between scientists, policymakers, practitioners and communities. Research, policies and funding models must recognize the interconnected nature of our social, technological and environmental systems, prioritize vulnerable communities, reduce exposure and account for the complexity of current and future hazards.

[1] This definition of resilience is modified from The World Bank Group’s 2013 report on Building Resilience: Integrating Climate and Disaster Risk into Development, which drew on definitions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2012 report and UNISDR.

[2] The definitions of exposure and vulnerability are modified from The World Bank Group’s 2013 report on Building Resilience: Integrating Climate and Disaster Risk into Development, which drew on definitions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2012 report and UNISDR.

[3] Deforestation contributes (~20%) to CO2 emissions associated with global warming from climate change, while reducing the evapotranspirative cooling of the atmosphere.

[4] For more information, see the AGU Position Statement on Climate Change.

[5] For example, see the UN Sustainable Development Goals, https://sdgs.un.org/goals

Current Statement

Resilience to Natural Hazards Requires a Partnership Between Scientists, Policy Makers, and Stakeholders

Natural hazards are inevitable, but disasters are not. Scientific research improves our understanding of the ways in which our society is affected by natural hazards. We create a more resilient society where lives are saved and economic losses are minimized when this information is used in formulating public policy and when we take scientifically informed action towards disaster preparation, mitigation, response and recovery.

Natural processes on Earth and in space create many hazards, including earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, tsunamis, floods, droughts, fires, heat waves, storms, space weather, and bolide impacts. Some of these hazards are changing with time, in both frequency and magnitude; in such cases, the past may not be representative of the future. Society’s hazard exposure increases with time as the world’s population rises and is more concentrated in urban areas and in low-lying coastal regions, and with changes in new construction practices and land use. Risk is a function both of hazards and society’s exposure and vulnerability. Dramatic evidence of these risks can be found every year in terms of human and economic losses.

To improve resilience to natural hazards, Earth and space scientists, engineers and social scientists together should (i) strengthen basic research into natural hazards, their impacts and their underlying processes via monitoring, observations, analysis, modeling, and forecasting; (ii) analyze the impact of hazards on the built and social environments to determine how to reduce vulnerability, human and economic losses; and (iii) assess our current state of knowledge about risk associated with natural hazards to provide sound information to policy makers and resource managers, and to identify research gaps and future challenges.

Scientists, engineers, policy makers, business leaders, emergency managers, educators, and other stakeholders should work together toward translating research findings into actions; understanding and responding to stakeholder needs1; and applying new science to improve disaster preparedness, mitigation, response, and recovery efforts through close communication, coordination, and collaboration.

A partnership for building a resilient society should be based on:

  • RESEARCH: scientific research with strong cooperation between scientists, engineers, resource managers, other stakeholders and policy makers at all stages of knowledge production from formulating problem statements to delivery of results and implementation.
  • EDUCATION: enhanced training and education at all levels by implementing a trans-disciplinary approach to disaster science and risk reduction.
  • AWARENESS: heightened public awareness of natural hazards and their impacts, and of scientific research and assessments to determine the best options for mitigating risk and increasing resilience.
  • STRATEGY: cooperation in developing nationally and regionally focused strategies to reduce risk associated with natural hazards, and improve decision support tools, information products and processes to enhance informed decision making and outreach.
  • INVESTMENT: investments in risk reduction research and measures that mitigate (if not prevent) disasters and promote resilience.
  • PREPAREDNESS & RESPONSE: enhancement of disaster preparedness and response by implementing scientific knowledge to develop early warning systems and hazard resilient practices.

Adopted by the American Geophysical Union, December 1996; Revised and Reaffirmed December 2000; Reaffirmed December 2004 and December 2005; Revised and Reaffirmed December 2007, February 2012, December 2015.

1 Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030: http://www.wcdrr.org/preparatory/post2015

Comment Form for AGU's Resilience Draft Statement