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This glossary has been compiled and adapted by ICLEI (2016) from several authoritative sources including the IPCC, UNISDR, UNFCCC, the World Bank, and Arup as well as from ICLEI publications, with input from the Durban Adaptation Charter Secretariat. Please see the references below for further information.  


The process of adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities.7,10,11 

Various types of adaptation exist; e.g., anticipatory and reactive, private and public, and autonomous and planned. Examples are raising river or coastal dikes, the substitution of more temperature shock resistant plants for sensitive ones, etc.

adaptive capacity. 

The ability  to adjust to shocks and stresses, moderate potential damage, take advantage of opportunities, and cope or respond to consequences.7 

Adaptive capacity relates to the combination of strengths, attributes, and resources available within built, natural, and social systems, as well as institutions, humans, and other organisms.

climate change. 

A change in the state of the climate that can be identified by changes in the mean and/or variability of its properties, and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer.7

climate change impact.

The effects of climate change or hazardous events on built, natural, and human systems. Potential impacts are all impacts that may occur given a projected change without considering adaptation. Residual impacts are those impacts that would occur after adaptation.

climate prediction. 

The result of an attempt to produce an estimate of the actual evolution of the climate in the future, for example, at seasonal, interannual or long-term time scales.

disaster risk management. 

The systematic process of using administrative directives, organisations, and operational skills and capacities to implement strategies, policies and improved coping capacities in order to lessen the adverse impacts of hazards and the possibility of disaster.

disaster risk reduction. 

The concept and practice of reducing disaster risk through systematic efforts to analyse and manage the causal factors of disasters, including through reduced exposure to hazards, lessened vulnerability of people and property, wise management of land and the environment, and improved preparedness for adverse events.10

ecohealth approach. 

An approach to human health that identifies the web of ecologically-based factors affecting human health –as well as the links between them. Equipped with this knowledge, local communities can better manage ecosystems to improve people's well-being and the health of the ecosystem.1

ecosystem-based adaptation (EBA). 

The adaptation policies and measures that take into account the role of ecosystem services in reducing the vulnerability of society to climate change.2 


The presence of people, livelihoods, species or ecosystems, environmental services and resources, infrastructure, or economic, social or cultural assets in places that could be adversely affected.7 

food security. 

Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs, as well as to culturally acceptable food preferences for an active and healthy life. The multi-dimensional nature of food security includes food availability, access, stability and utilization.3

food system.

This encompasses the networks of actors involved in the supply of, and demand for, food and their activities and interactions at multiple levels across spatial, temporal, jurisdictional and other scales, together with the network’s food and nutritional security outcomes over time[1]. Here this is applied to the city-region to explore resilient urban food systems.


Hazard refers to a dangerous phenomenon, substance, human activity or condition that may cause loss of life, injury or other health impacts, property damage, loss of livelihoods and services, social and economic disruption, or environmental damage. A natural hazard is a natural process or phenomenon that may cause loss of life, injury or other health impacts, property damage, loss of livelihoods and services, social and economic disruption, or environmental damage.10 


Alignment and communication between systems, sectors, and institutional processes which promotes consistency in decision making and facilitates more rapid responses by enabling systems to function collectively and achieve common outcomes..

local government.

An administrative body or system in which political direction and control is exercised over the community of a city, town or small district.4


The process of integrating policies that seek to address climate change concerns in regular development planning and ongoing sectoral decision making. Mainstreaming specifically means that development policies that otherwise would not have taken climate mitigation and adaptation into consideration, would explicitly include these concerns in the formulation and implementation processes.5


Any changes in built, natural, or human systems that inadvertently increase vulnerability; an adaptation that does not succeed in reducing vulnerability but instead increases it.7 


Technological change and substitution that reduce resource inputs and emissions per unit of output. Although several social, economic and technological policies would produce an emission reduction, with respect to climate change, mitigation means implementing policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance sinks.


The restoration and improvement where appropriate, of facilities, livelihoods and living conditions of disaster-affected communities, including efforts to reduce disaster risk factors.10 


Spare capacity purposely built into a system, including by incorporating multiple ways of fulfilling a particular goal so that the system can accommodate disruption, extreme pressures, or surges in demand.


The ability to continuously change and evolve in the face of inherent and increasing uncertainty rather than seeking permanent solutions based on the status quo.


The capacity of a social or ecological system and its component parts to cope with hazardous shocks and stresses in a timely and efficient manner by responding, adapting, and transforming in ways that restore, maintain, and even improve its essential functions, structures, and identity while retaining the capacity for growth and change.7,12

resilient city. 

A city that is prepared to absorb and recover from any shock or stress while maintaining its essential functions, structures, and identity as well as adapting and thriving in the face of continual change. Building resilience requires identifying and assessing hazard risks, reducing vulnerability and exposure, and lastly, increasing resistance, adaptive capacity, and emergency preparedness.6


the ability to rapidly find different ways to maintain or restore functionality and achieve set goals while under a shock or stress.


Responsive infrastructure systems incorporate automated monitoring, short feedback loops and controls at multiple points, enabling transparency of performance data and rapid adjustment to maintain functionality.


The product of hazard and vulnerability; the likelihood or probability of occurrence of hazardous events, or trends multiplied by the harmful consequences resulting from exposure to the hazard.

risk assessment. 

A methodology to determine the nature and extent of risk by analysing potential hazards and evaluating existing conditions of vulnerability that together could potentially harm exposed people, property, services, livelihoods and the environment on which they depend.10

risk management. 

The systematic approach and practice of managing uncertainty to minimize potential harm and loss.


ability to safely withstand the impacts of hazard events without significant damage or loss of function due to a design that anticipates potential failures.

sea level rise. 

An increase in the mean level of the ocean.  Eustatic sea-level rise is a change in global average sea level brought about by an increase in the volume of the world ocean. Relative sea-level rise occurs where there is a local increase in the level of the ocean relative to the land, which might be due to ocean rise and/or land level subsidence. In areas subject to rapid land-level uplift, relative sea level can fall.

storm surge. 

The temporary increase, at a particular locality, in the height of the sea due to extreme meteorological conditions (low atmospheric pressure and/or strong winds). The storm surge is defined as being the excess above the level expected from the tidal variation alone at that time and place.

sustainable development. 

A form of development that meets present-day needs without compromising the ability of future generations to satisfy their own requirements. It aims to improve individuals' living conditions whilst preserving their environment in the short, medium and – above all – long term. The objective of sustainable development is threefold: development that is economically efficient, socially fair and environmentally sustainable.8

urban heat island (UHI).

The relative warmth of a city compared with surrounding rural areas, associated with changes in runoff, the concrete jungle effects on heat retention, changes in surface albedo, changes in pollution and aerosols, and so on.

urban greening.

The planned, integrated and systematic approach to managing urban and peri-urban vegetation. Urban greening aims to contribute to the environmental, psychological, sociological, and economic well-being of urban society.9


The conversion of land from a natural state or managed natural state (such as agriculture) to cities; a process driven by net rural-to-urban migration through which an increasing percentage of the population in any nation or region come to live in settlements that are defined as 'urban centers.'


The degree to which a someone or something is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, a hazard. Vulnerability is a function of the character, magnitude, and rate of hazards to which a system is exposed, its sensitivity, and its adaptive capacity.

water stress. 

The available freshwater supply relative to water withdrawals acts as an important constraint on development. Withdrawals exceeding 20% of renewable water supply have been used as an indicator of water stress. A crop is water-stressed if soil- available water, and thus actual evapotranspiration, is less than potential evapotranspiration demands.



1 Gopalon H.N.B., UNEP Division of Policy Development and Law

2 Vignola R, Locatelli B, Martinez C, Imbach P (2009) Ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change: What role for policy-makers, society and scientists? Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Change 14:691–696

3 FAO:

4 European Environment Agency:

5 Chuku (2010) Pursuing an integrated development and climate policy, framework in Africa: options for mainstreaming. Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Change 15:41–52

6 ICLEI Resilient Cities Agenda 2015

7 IPCC: Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

8 European Commission:

9 European Tropical Forest Research Network (ETFRN): 

10 UNISDR Terminology on DRR:

11 The World Bank  (2009) Climate Resilient Cities : A Primer on Reducing Vulnerabilities to Disasters:

12 Arup, City Resilience Framework.