Climate change is already affecting the lives of millions of people around the globe. We can slow global temperature rise with concerted and collective effort, but people on the front lines of the crisis are already responding and adapting. To survive and thrive on a warming planet, everyone will someday need to follow their lead in building resilience. But as CJRF has learned, frontline communities need more than what we often think of as “resilience” — they need voice, power, and the opportunity to innovate. We believe that by supporting women, youth, and Indigenous Peoples to create and share their own climate resilience solutions, we can drive systems-level change, but it requires bringing a strong justice lens to how funders and other powerful global players often think about resilience.
In the summer of 2021, the CJRF community came together to evaluate the term “resilience” and its implications. Through conversations with our grantee partners and other funders, CJRF uncovered the tension often felt by those communities frequently labeled as “resilient.” In many cases, “climate resilience,” holds a positive connotation; yet, our partners pointed out that the use of the phrase to describe their communities can make it easier for politicians and governments to avoid dealing with inequalities and systemic problems.
Their concerns raise interesting points for climate justice funders—especially as climate negotiations at COP27 take place. Through their insights, we came to understand 3 key takeaways of what resilience means:
- Resilience is deeper than the ability to survive crises
- Resilience can lock us into the status quo
- Climate resilience requires systems transformation
Resilience is deeper than the ability to survive crises
Resilience is not just about surviving disaster scenarios. Instead, it is about equipping communities with the tools and resources they need to thrive. True resilience building also requires approaches that build political power and voice and work for the most vulnerable. For example, CJRF’s $210,000 grant to Indigenous Climate Action aims to support their efforts to allow Indigenous communities to assess their climate challenges and develop collaborative solutions. Too often, climate policy and solutions have ignored Indigenous experts, values, knowledge, and voices. By investing in the tools and resources needed to gather Indigenous insights, CJRF is supporting their resilience and centering their insights.
Funders must recognize that the communities hardest hit by crises are the only ones who should define what resilience means in their contexts. Funder resources should help communities realize their visions of resilience rather than the funders’ assumptions of what communities need.
Resilience can lock us into the status quo
Too often, resilience is defined as people’s capacity to endure human-built structures of oppression, such as colonialism, white supremacy, extractivism, and capitalism. In this context, we risk normalizing these structures, rather than dismantling systems causing the harm.
In fact, societies in the Global North often assume that financial security, being able-bodied, and individual agency are critical for resilience. Yet, these aspects also highlight capitalist and colonial culture values. While important, these elements are often different from what non-Global North communities consider the linchpins of climate resilience and the ability to lead meaningful lives. For example, maintaining deep connections to the land, honoring Indigenous knowledge and culture, and forming solid and interdependent relationships often play a more primary role in building resilience.
Climate resilience requires systems transformation
People often use resilience to mean the ability of people to grit their teeth and endure oppression. If we take a broader view of what it means to be climate resilient, then we should support people’s ability to respond to crisis in a way that builds a better future. To build a better future, funders must examine the historical root causes of present-day challenges. For example, colonialist practices have led to the underdevelopment of many African and East Asian countries, leaving them without the infrastructure to handle natural disasters.
True systems transformation is two-fold—funders must invest and divest. Investing in communities means equipping them with the tools and techniques to fight climate crises on their own terms; whereas, divesting—with words and actions—calls on funders to move away from infrastructure that causes harm to communities. By shifting power from funders to communities at the center of the climate crisis, philanthropy can transform systems to build the resilience of the climate vulnerable.