In the media

Climate leadership and national resilience go hand in hand

Caroline Field

By Caroline Field

Sustainability Voices

03 October 2022


The UK has ambitions to become “the most resilient nation”, as outlined in its proposed National Resilience Strategy. However, this cannot be achieved in isolation from the rest of the world – we need to take leadership for global climate resilience to achieve the UK’s resilience goals and support international resilience-building efforts.

This will take a fundamental shift in mindset away from meeting our most immediate needs to focusing on the longer-term and making plans before disaster strikes. Leaders need to position the UK at the forefront of resilience: able to prepare, mitigate, and adapt to the changing world. This will take strong and decisive leadership, collaborative ways of working and drilling into data to drive decisions.

Recent events laid bare just how important this is. With the record for the hottest temperature smashed several times in July, the UK saw some terrible repercussions – the London Fire Brigade’s busiest day since World War II, our rail infrastructure unable to operate, medical operations cancelled, and a surge in calls for ambulances. We need to be able to prevent, respond to, recover and learn from these disruptions.

This can be an uncomfortable place to focus. Climate change is fundamentally altering the environments, ecologies, and living conditions for people the world over. The building blocks of human society (land, water, shelter, food, and fuel) are under threat, often in places already subject to scarcity. Sea level rise alone is estimated to place the homes of 200m people underwater by 2100, forcing at least this number of people to migrate, although in reality the figure will be far higher.

Unchecked, the effects of climate change on infrastructure, livelihoods, and movement as a result of geopolitical shifts and resource scarcity will be far worse. We cannot wait idly for this to happen.

Leading and leveraging international partnerships in government and industry

The National Resilience Strategy recognises the interconnectedness of the world and the need for the UK to take leadership around key issues such as health, climate change and biodiversity. The process of shifting the mindset and action of governments, NGOs, businesses, and prominent individuals is complex. It requires two key traits: a strong and successful track record to build trust from the group, and immediate successes to create momentum behind a shared goal.

However, we know that when collaboration is successful seemingly unattainable goals can be achieved, take for instance our work on the COVID-19 ventilator challenge – global partnerships were critical in delivering national resilience here. We facilitated connections between international world leaders in engineering, logistics and design, bringing together an agile and diverse team from across the public and private sectors to ensure that everyone in the UK who needed a ventilator got one.

It’s success stories like this that show how much can be achieved through working together, breaking down siloes to deliver innovative solutions. We need to take these learnings and apply them to our climate response. These public-private partnerships need to be leveraged prior to disasters to help mitigate the impact of climate change on our national resilience.

Businesses should also look to engage with existing initiatives too such as the Race to Resilience – a UN-backed global campaign to catalyse a step-change in global ambition for climate resilience. By 2030, they are looking to accelerate action by businesses, investors, cities and civil society to help build the resilience of four billion people. They are focused on delivering initiatives to help the most vulnerable frontline communities adapt to the physical impacts of climate change, such as extreme heat, drought, flooding and sea-level rise.

An opportunity to deliver resilience, sustainability and productivity

The UK does not need to compromise on success to build resilience. Building resilience reduces external dependencies in favour of long-term solutions, providing opportunities for growth. Take energy – reducing dependencies abroad, and therefore building resilience to shocks, can be achieved through the harnessing of sustainable homegrown technologies. For example, we are working with technology companies which are either entering the market or transforming their own offerings with innovative green-tech solutions to revolutionise and scale up response to our climate crisis.

The UK must ‘go big’ on self-sufficient energy production; it must innovate in food production and critical supplies to insulate citizens from shocks; and it must bill sustainability metrics as highly as financial equivalents in assessing development success.

High quality self-sufficiency is the gold-standard of resilience-building, and in areas where global cooperation is necessary, such as climate change, the UK must take a leadership role to ensure that the long-term thinking employed domestically is fostered worldwide.

This article was first published in Sustainability Voices.

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