Equitable Resilience Framework


Climate change is disrupting the fundamental conditions of human life. Its impacts are also profoundly unequal (King and Harrington, 2018). Climate change exacerbates existing inequities by placing further burdens on communities that are already vulnerable (Islam and Winkel, 2017). While some individuals and communities will have the resources to adapt to or avoid the worst impacts of climate change, others will find their homes becoming uninhabitable, their livelihoods vanishing, and their health and security threatened (Oppenheimer et al. 2019). It is estimated sea level rise alone will create up to 1 billion climate refugees by 2100 (Hauer et al. 2020). While such inequities are routinely noted, scholars and policymakers have largely failed to grasp the magnitude of their impact or to craft commensurate responses. Solutions that aim to increase resilience often focus on technological fixes and economic metrics rather than on the social complexities of communities -- yet the engagement of community stakeholders is the surest way to achieve efficacy and durability in any projected solution.

This is why a framework for equitable resilience is crucial. Considerations such as equity, justice, and community input are sometimes acknowledged, but they are rarely a fundamental part of the design and implementation of solutions. This needs to change. Current practices in producing knowledge, framing problems, formulating policies, and implementing climate solutions do not take adequate measures to understand or protect vulnerable communities (Adger et al., 2006). Additionally, the solutions themselves can exacerbate vulnerabilities and inequities, whether it is a renewable energy transition policy that burdens low-income utility users, or a resettlement plan that fails to consider the will of the most disadvantaged residents (Anguelovski et al., 2016; Barnett and O’Neill, 2010). Continuing on this path is a recipe for failure. It’s clear that mitigating and adapting to climate change require profound societal transformations.

The framework we design is anti-hierarchical -- a transformation in how expertise itself meets community needs for equity in resilient adaptation. The long history of failed social engineering projects demonstrates how top-down climate solutions can worsen existing inequities if they are not embedded in social practices and values (Arnstein, 1969; Davoudi et al., 2012; Meerow et al., 2019). Put simply, solutions built with communities have better outcomes (Grabowski et al. 2019; Mackinnon and Derickson 2013; Norris et al., 2007; Wilson 2018). It is not enough to voice concerns about justice or to hold a community meeting. To succeed, climate change solutions must embed social considerations into every step of their design and implementation. They must strive to be inclusive and fair, to promote communication and knowledge-sharing, and to give power to those who historically lack it. And they must do so in a way that is structured and robust, not based merely on good intentions.

The goal of this project is to create an equitable and inclusive design and planning process that will purposefully enhance community capabilities and sovereignty over decision-making, while also helping projects achieve more successful long-term outcomes. An equitable approach to climate resilience strives for fairness in multiple facets and stages. It ensures that people are treated according to their needs and with consideration of both current and historical contexts and of relative advantages or disadvantages. The framework and protocols we are developing for climate mitigation and adaptation are novel, intended to situate local social practices, knowledge, and values at the heart of the policymaking process. This approach will balance community values and needs with other decision-making parameters. It will enhance and enrich communication between scientists, civil society, and policymakers working on resilience and adaptation strategies. It will help integrate regional and national climate strategies with community-led planning, design, and policymaking to improve resilience and adaptation on a local level. And it will assist groups, particularly underrepresented frontline and Black Indigenous and other People of Color (BIPOC) communities, in shaping their own equitable strategies for building resilience.

The Equitable Resilience Framework team includes Nicholas Ashford, Surbhi Agrawal, Johan Arango-Quiroga, David Birge, Gabriella Carolini, Shekhar Chandra, Colleen Chiu-Shee, Nicholas de Monchaux, Rania Ghosn, Sally Haslanger, Courtney Humphries, Eric Huntley, Janelle Knox-Hayes (PI), Caroline Jones, Miho Mazereeuw, Osamu Moses Kumasaka, Deni Lopez, Antares McCoy-Villaneda, Caitlin Mueller, Leslie Norford, Mary Anne Ocampo, Prudence Robinson, Sasha Rollinger, Haley Schilling, Justin Steil, Lawrence Vale, and Sarah Williams.

With support from
MIT Norman B. Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism.

Image credit: John Tlumacki

Spring 2021