Human well-being and resilience to environmental challenges – two key goals of sustainable development – are often understood as linked or even interchangeable terms. However, a new study has argued that this is not always the case. In fact, such a view is often based on a simplistic understanding of the two terms.
“We want to highlight the vital distinctions and connections between well-being and resilience ahead of the COP26 UN climate change conference in Glasgow next week so that policies can be better designed and ensure that addressing the climate crisis does not harm people’s well-being and livelihoods,” said study lead author Dr. Tomas Chaigneau, an environmental social scientist from the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter.
In order to prove that the two terms don’t always go hand in hand, Dr. Chaigneau offered the example of the 2004 Asian tsunami that led to new legislation from India and Sri Lanka which prevented homes and businesses to be rebuilt close to the coast.
“This forced people who depended on the sea for economic, cultural, and social reasons to move to isolated villages inland, undermining well-being in diverse ways. If these trade-offs had been thought through more thoroughly, then measures to ameliorate them could have been implemented alongside them,” he explained. “Our website (www.navigating-complexity.com/home) provides an opportunity to explore some of these complex trade-offs.”
According to Dr. Chaigneau, understanding and pursuing well-being in simple economic terms is actually driving the current climate crisis, and thus undermining resilience in devastation ways. For example, responding to extremes in hot or cold temperatures linked to climate change through the use of air conditioning or central heating may improve human well-being in the short term, but exacerbate global warming in the long term.
“A narrow focus on achieving resilience and well-being locally and in the near future, can lead to trade-offs elsewhere or in the future. We need to consider resilience and wellbeing at regional and global levels, and on timescales spanning generations,” Dr. Chaigneau concluded.
The study is published in the journal Nature Sustainability.