BY EMILY SAMPLE
As the world confronts the effects of climate change, the vulnerability of states at all levels of development has become starkly apparent. Structural pressures are mounting, leading to increased frequency and intensity of cascading crises including stress from mass migration, droughts, extreme weather events, disease outbreaks, commodity price shocks, and associated political and social unrest. This dynamic sets up a race against time, to see whether improvements in our systems of resilience can outpace the worsening trends or whether we are heading towards a tipping point. There is one designated pillar in the SRI that specifically focuses on environmental and ecological resilience factors. This pillar helps determine a country’s ability to absorb, adapt, and transform in the face of an environmental crisis.
In conceptualizing this pillar, the FFP team looked at a variety of ecological concepts. The natural environment provides the substrate on which human civilization is built. The connection between preserving environmental flourishing and human health has been well established, both on an individual level and at a system level. At an extreme, attempts have been made to determine the environmental limits within which humanity can safely operate, known as the planetary boundary concept, which an omnipresent concern as the human population reaches eight million. In addition to global environmental health, local ecological health – and its resilience to shocks – plays a critical role in mitigating extreme weather events, shaping food systems, improving population health, and reducing vulnerability to pandemics. The Environment-Ecology pillar aims to measure the health of air, aquatic, and terrestrial environments; the ecological vitality of local ecosystems and biodiversity; and the stability of the local climate.
Each country in the SRI has an established score, based on 8 sub-pillars, which are themselves made up of a total of 28 metrics. In part, these scores reflect the ways a given state manages their natural resources, including the health of their air, soil, and water, their agricultural productivity, and rate of deforestation and biodiversity loss.
In the process of collecting data for the SRI, FFP hosted a workshop with leading members of the environmental and climate security communities to discuss how environmental resilience is currently measured and monitored, as well as what they saw as the current gaps in knowledge. This analysis allowed participants to highlight how certain countries have or have not demonstrated particular resilience in the face of climate change, as well as noting the ways in which the effects of climate change have cascading effects across the seven identified pillars. One thing that has become clear in not only the analysis of the environment, but also in assessing resilience in the face of climate change, is that no pillar exists in a vacuum. Even the environmental pillar cannot produce a full picture of societal resilience to the effects of climate change. Both in the short term (shocks) and long term (pressures), the effects of climate change cascade across pillars, and require more holistic analysis.
For example, imagine a scenario where there was a sudden flood in one part of a country. First, an analysis of environmental/ecological resilience would be judicious, including forest health and coverage, recent rainfall and temperature averages, and areas of potential water infiltration. This illustrates how resilient the land area should have been to flooding. The State Capacity pillar must then be taken into account in assessing the government’s response to this event, e.g., was the government able to provide rescue services, food, water, shelter, emergency healthcare, and rebuilding funds to the affected population? Next, under the Inclusion pillar, did the government provide adequate services to this group irrespective of the ethnic or religious makeup of the area? Or unequal care? This is just one example of why and how these pillars and sub-indicators should be used as parts of a whole, not a series of siloed data.
Environmental and climate resilience are major topics in the human security field, which has led some to use the term interchangeably with climate adaptation. While they have some overlapping features, it is important to recognize that resilience refers to a society’s ability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from climate-related shocks with a clear focus on minimizing the negative effects of these events on society as a whole. Adaptation methods, which can negatively or positively affect resilience, are changes made to adjust to living in the new reality of a changed, or rapidly changing climate. A country can have instituted certain climate adaptation methods (for example the installation of levees and sea walls) but still have low climate resilience overall (are the individuals, community, and state able to prepare for and respond to a breach in those walls?). Another example is the increasing reliance on hydroelectric dams as a climate change adaption method, the creation of which may have little impact on climate resilience if the energy infrastructure is otherwise fragile. In addition, these dams can have negative impacts on social resilience reflected in other pillars. This is why some countries’ Environment-Ecology pillar score may be lower than anticipated, including the United States.
While there are many factors that go into the United States’ score in this pillar, one of its lowest scoring sub-indicators is clean energy. There is good news for the US’ score for next year though, as the newly passed Inflation Reduction Act specifically looks to build climate resilience domestically. Importantly, this includes reducing United States’ reliance on both foreign and domestic fossil fuels as well as increasing subsidies and access to clean energy. This will ideally signal a long-term overall increase in the United States’ climate resilience.
As this is the first year of the SRI, the scores are indicative of a snapshot of a moment in time. Starting with next year’s scores, the FFP will be able to start building an increasingly clear pattern of environmental and ecological resilience across the world. What countries do to build resilience now is of the utmost importance as we face a future of greater pressures, increasing frequency and intensity of disasters and shocks, and less predictable and dependable weather patterns.
 Will Steffen et al., “Planetary Boundaries: Guiding Human Development on a Changing Planet,” Science 347, no. 6223 (February 13, 2015): 1259855, https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1259855.
 Craig Welch, “Earth Now Has 8 Billion People—and Counting. Where Do We Go from Here?,” National Geographic (blog), November 14, 2022, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/the-world-now-has-8-billion-people.
 Sara Mehryar, “What Is the Difference between Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience?,” Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (blog), September 12, 2022, https://www.lse.ac.uk/granthaminstitute/explainers/what-is-the-difference-between-climate-change-adaptation-and-resilience/.
 Emily Sample and Regina Paulose, “Climate Change and Systemic Environmental Racism” (Muscatine, Iowa: Stanley Center for Peace and Security and Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security, and Conflict Transformation, October 20, 2021), https://stanleycenter.org/publications/climate-change-systemic-environmental-racism/.
 Full text: https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/5376/text
 Erin Sikorsky, “Climate Security Implications of the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act,” The Center for Climate & Security, August 15, 2022, https://climateandsecurity.org/2022/08/climate-security-implications-of-the-u-s-inflation-reduction-act/.