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(REF RS27) A Resilience Strategy for the UN Sustainable Development Goals – A New Approach. Convened by Cranfield University, UK.

September 27 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm PDT

A Resilience Strategy for the UN Sustainable Development Goals – A New Approach

Resilience is acknowledged both explicitly and implicitly in a range of the proposed SDG targets. For example, Target 1.5 represents the core resilience target, as follows: ‘By 2030 build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations, and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters.

The vision set out in the SDGs – for people, planet, prosperity and peace – will inevitably fail if shocks and stresses are not addressed. The pledge that ‘no one will be left behind’ requires a specific focus on the poorest and most vulnerable people. A focus on strengthening resilience can protect development gains and ensure people have the resources and capacities to better reduce, prevent, anticipate, absorb and adapt to a range of shocks, stresses, risks and crises.

However, the ongoing SDG implementation is likely to fall short of its intended goal unless attention is given to the interconnectedness of the SDGs and the socio-technical ecological system upon which they depend. Simply quantifying a list of risks, i.e., the SDG’s, and not examining their interconnectedness will prevent a resilient strategy to be put in place.

Slowly emerging challenges (e.g., climate change, rising levels of obesity, ageing populations), as well as shocks and crises (e.g., terrorist attacks, extreme weather events, pandemics), are continually testing the resilience of systems (natural or designed). Whilst, resilience is about addressing the sources or causes of future challenges e.g., climate change through adaptation. It is also about our ability to cope with disruption e.g., extreme weather events (through mitigation).

The Need for Investment in resilience at a significant scale is too frequently made only after a major shock – e.g. pandemic, hurricane, and drought, and confined to those areas in which the shock appears to have principally affected. Often such investments are made to address the previous shock, rather than what is likely to come. A radically different approach is becoming ever more urgent if we are to secure the resilience of our society and natural resources (see, for example, Nature 581, 119; 2020). Society must go beyond siloed strategies to include all components of the system in which we live, and address these at three timescales – reactive, adaptive and provident (Weise et al, 2020).

The delivery of the SDGs occurs within tightly coupled systems of systems, contain poorly understood interdependencies and shared vulnerabilities and opportunities, which cannot be considered in isolation. Ensuring resilience across large-scale complex programmes, emerging from formerly independent technologies and their associated human systems, such as critical infrastructure, is challenging due to emergent system behaviour at different scales (e.g., industry, community, region). This may produce unexpected behaviour, with such systems vulnerable to cascade failures. The science of complex systems and resilience has been a fruitful area of research but predominantly occurs within cognate areas and disciplines. Although disciplines are still important, providing linkages to well-characterised and developed conceptual and theoretical frameworks based on extensive, rigorous evidence, the science of resilience, focusing on the interdependencies and feedbacks between the five capitals components of the system is in its infancy.
Common threads in the work on resilience are the notions of “capital” and “service flows” and the role of feedbacks and diversity.

The 5 capitals

The “Five Capitals” schema attempts to capture the entire system.

  • Natural = ecosystems/assets from which there are a flow of services and/or products;
  • Social = pattern and intensity of networks and beliefs among the population that add value to organisations and communities;
  • Human = collective skills, and knowledge that can be used for economic value and that promote wellbeing;
  • Built (manufactured) = materials, goods or fixed assets contributing to the production process but are not part of the output;
  • Financial = representative of outputs of others (e.g. shares, bonds, cash). Mapping the SDG’s to the Five Capitals, figure 1.0, identifies a complex system:
  • what are their identities, connections, interdependencies and feedbacks?
  • How does investment in one, secure outcomes in others?
  • if we degrade one, are others degraded?
  • Is this always the case?

Figure 1.0: The Connection between the 5 capitals and the UN SDG’s Connected approach will enhance resilience SDGsIt is proposed that a programme of work on Connected Resilience is developed and resourced with academic involvement from several disciplines, institutions, and countries. It is also firmly stakeholder-led and hence highly applied.

This interdisciplinarity means that the research on resilience spans the remits of traditional funding sources. The UN and its partners represent one of the few interdisciplinary funding sources that will allow this work to develop further. It is foreseen that UN/partnership funding would accelerate and amplify the research on connected resilience, which would support the delivery of the SDG goals. Furthermore, it is hoped it
would provide the basis for further collaborative projects with the numerous statutory and non-statutory organisations involved in the practical implementation of resilience interventions.

The work would examine different kinds of systems and scalability across system levels (micro to macro), which facilitate integrative conversations and science across disciplines concerned with socio-technical-ecological adaptation in a potentially threatening world. Addressing the key question of how the components of the SDG system work, their interdependencies and feedbacks, is, we suggest, the principal way in which resilience can be described and secured, with a properly engaged group of disciplines and stakeholders to develop a comprehensive approach for developing a cross-sectoral, multi-dimensional and dynamic understanding of “Connected Resilience” that will be conceptualised and applied through research and implementation within the UN.


  • Nature 581, 119 (2020)
  • Weise, H., Auge, H., Baessler, C., Bärlund, I., Bennett, E.M., Berger, U., Bohn, F., Bonn, A., Borchardt, D., Brand, F. and Chatzinotas, A., 2020. Resilience trinity: safeguarding ecosystem functioning and services across three different time horizons and decision contexts. Oikos, 129(4), pp.445-456.


Monday September 27, 2021 5:00pm – 7:00pm CEST


September 27
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm PDT
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