Selected Ecosystem-Based Disaster and Climate Change Terminology


Nature-based Solutions – Solutions that are inspired and supported by nature, which are cost-effective, simultaneously provide environmental, social and economic benefits and help build resilience. Such solutions bring more, and more diverse, nature and natural features and processes into cities, landscapes and seascapes, through locally adapted, resource-efficient and systemic interventions.

Adaptation – Initiatives and measures to reduce the vulnerability of natural and human systems against actual or expected climate change effects. 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.

Adaptation benefits – The avoided damage costs or the accrued benefits following the adoption and implementation of adaptation measures.

Adaptation costs – Costs of planning, preparing for, facilitating, and implementing adaptation measures, including transition costs.

Adaptive capacity – The whole of capabilities, resources and institutions of a country or region to implement effective adaptation measures.

Biodiversity – The total diversity of all organisms and ecosystems at various spatial scales (from genes to entire biomes).

Capacity – The combination of all the strengths, attributes and resources available within an organization, community or society to manage and reduce disaster risks and strengthen resilience.

Annotation: Capacity may include infrastructure, institutions, human knowledge and skills, and collective attributes such as social relationships, leadership and management. (UNISDR. 2017)

Coping capacity – is the ability of people, organizations and systems, using available skills and resources, to manage adverse conditions, risk or disasters. The capacity to cope requires continuing awareness, resources and good management, both in normal times as well as during disasters or adverse conditions. Coping capacities contribute to the reduction of disaster risks. (UNISDR 2017)

Climate – Climate in a narrow sense is usually defined as the average weather, or more rigorously, as the statistical description in terms of the mean and variability of relevant quantities over a period of time ranging from months to thousands or millions of years. The classical period for averaging these variables is 30 years, as defined by the World Meteorological Organization. The relevant quantities are most often surface variables such as temperature, precipitation and wind. Climate in a wider sense is the state, including a statistical description, of the climate system. (IPCC, 2007)

Climate change – A change in the state of the climate that can be identified by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties, and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer. Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forces, or to persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use. In other words, a change in the climate that persists for decades or longer, arising from either natural causes or human activity. (IPCC, 2007)

Climate change adaptation – The adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities. Various types of adaptation exist, e.g. anticipatory and reactive, private and public, and autonomous and planned. (IPCC, 2007)

Climate scenario – A plausible and often simplified representation of the future climate, based on an internally consistent set of climatological relationships that has been constructed for explicit use in investigating the potential consequences of anthropogenic climate change, often serving as input to impact models. Climate projections often serve as the raw material for constructing climate scenarios, but climate scenarios usually require additional information such as about the observed current climate. A climate change scenario is the difference between a climate scenario and the current climate.

Climate variability – Variations in the mean state and other statistics (such as standard deviations, the occurrence of extremes, etc.) of the climate on all spatial and temporal scales beyond that of individual weather events. Variability may be due to natural internal processes within the climate system (internal variability), or to variations in natural or anthropogenic external forcing (external variability). (IPPC, 2007).

Disaster – A serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society at any scale due to hazardous events interacting with conditions of exposure, vulnerability and capacity, leading to one or more of the following: human, material, economic and environmental losses and impacts.

Annotation: The effect of the disaster can be immediate and localized, but is often widespread and could last for a long period of time. The effect may test or exceed the capacity of a community or society to cope using its own resources, and therefore may require assistance from external sources, which could include neighboring jurisdictions, or those at the national or international levels. (UNISDR, 2017).

Disaster risk – The potential loss of life, injury, or destroyed or damaged assets which could occur to a system, society or a community in a specific period of time, determined probabilistically as a function of hazard, exposure, vulnerability and capacity.

Annotation: The definition of disaster risk reflects the concept of hazardous events and disasters as the outcome of continuously present conditions of risk. Disaster risk comprises different types of potential losses which are often difficult to quantify. Nevertheless, with knowledge of the prevailing hazards and the patterns of population and socioeconomic development, disaster risks can be assessed and mapped, in broad terms at least. (UNISDR, 2017)

Disaster risk reduction – Disaster risk reduction is aimed at preventing new and reducing existing disaster risk and managing residual risk, all of which contribute to strengthening resilience and therefore to the achievement of sustainable development.

Annotation: Disaster risk reduction is the policy objective of disaster risk management, and its goals and objectives are defined in disaster risk reduction strategies and plans. (UNISDR, 2017)

Ecosystem – A system of living organisms interacting with each other and their physical environment. The boundaries of what could be called an ecosystem are somewhat arbitrary, depending on the focus of interest or study. Thus, the extent of an ecosystem may range from very small spatial scales to, ultimately, the entire Earth.

Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) is the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of an overall adaptation strategy to help people to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change. EbA aims to maintain and increase the resilience and reduce the vulnerability of ecosystems and people in the face of the adverse effects of climate change.” (CBD 2009)

Ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction (Eco-DRR) is defined as “the sustainable management, conservation and restoration of ecosystems to reduce disaster risk, with the aim to achieve sustainable and resilient development.” (Estrella and Saalismaa, 2013)

Ecosystem services –The benefits that people and communities obtain from ecosystems. These include “regulating services” such as regulation of floods, drought, land degradation and disease, along with “provisioning services” such as food and water, “supporting services” such as soil formation and nutrient cycling, and “cultural services” such as recreational, spiritual, religious and other non-material benefits. Integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use provide the basis for maintaining ecosystem services, including those that contribute to reduced disaster risks. (Source: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. 2005; UNISDR. 2017)

Environment – The complex of physical, chemical, and biotic factors (such as climate, soil, and living things) that act upon individual organisms and communities, including humans, and ultimately determine their form and survival. It is also the aggregate of social and cultural conditions that influence the life of an individual or community. The environment includes natural resources and ecosystem services that comprise essential life-supporting functions for humans, including clean water, food, materials for shelter, and livelihood generation. (Source: WWF and American Red Cross. 2010. The Green Recovery and Reconstruction Toolkit)

Environmental degradation – The reduction of the capacity of the environment to meet social and ecological objectives and needs. Degradation of the environment can alter the frequency and intensity of natural hazards and increase the vulnerability of communities. The types of human induced degradation are varied and include land misuse, soil erosion and loss, desertification, wildland fires, loss of biodiversity, deforestation, mangrove destruction, land, water and air pollution, climate change, sea level rise and ozone depletion. (UNISDR, 2017)

Exposure – The situation of people, infrastructure, housing, production capacities and other tangible human assets located in hazard-prone areas.

Annotation: Measures of exposure can include the number of people or types of assets in an area. These can be combined with the specific vulnerability and capacity of the exposed elements to any particular hazard to estimate the quantitative risks associated with that hazard in the area of interest. (UNISDR, 2017)

Extreme weather event – An event that is rare at a particular place and time of year. Definitions of “rare” vary, but an extreme weather event would normally be as rare as or rarer than the 10th or 90th percentile of the observed probability density function. By definition, the characteristics of what is called extreme weather may vary from place to place in an absolute sense. Single extreme events cannot be simply and directly attributed to anthropogenic climate change, as there is always a finite chance the event in question might have occurred naturally. When a pattern of extreme weather persists for some time, such as a season, it may be classed as an extreme climate event, especially if it yields an average or total that is itself extreme (e.g., drought or heavy rainfall over a season).

Hazard – A process, phenomenon or human activity that may cause loss of life, injury or other health impacts, property damage, social and economic disruption or environmental degradation.

Annotation: Hazards may be natural, anthropogenic or socionatural in origin. Natural hazards are predominantly associated with natural processes and phenomena. Anthropogenic hazards, or human-induced hazards, are induced entirely or predominantly by human activities and choices. This term does not include the occurrence or risk of armed conflicts and other situations of social instability or tension which are subject to international humanitarian law and national legislation. Several hazards are socionatural, in that they are associated with a combination of natural and anthropogenic factors, including environmental degradation and climate change. (UNISDR, 2017; PEDRR, 2010)

(Climate change) Impacts – The effects of climate change on natural and human systems. Depending on the consideration of adaptation, one can distinguish between potential impacts and residual impacts:

  • Potential impacts: all impacts that may occur given a projected change in climate, without considering adaptation.
  • Residual impacts: the impacts of climate change that would occur after adaptation.

Mitigation – The lessening or minimizing of the adverse impacts of a hazardous event.

Annotation: The adverse impacts of hazards, in particular natural hazards, often cannot be prevented fully, but their scale or severity can be substantially lessened by various strategies and actions. Mitigation measures include engineering techniques and hazard-resistant construction as well as improved environmental and social policies and public awareness. It should be noted that, in climate change policy, “mitigation” is defined differently, and is the term used for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions that are the source of climate change. (UNISDR, 2017)

Natural resources – Natural resources are actual or potential sources of wealth that occur in a natural state, such as timber, water, fertile land, wildlife and minerals. A natural resource qualifies as a renewable resource if it is replenished by natural processes at a rate comparable to its rate of consumption by humans or other users. A natural resource is considered non-renewable when it exists in a fixed amount, or when it cannot be regenerated on a scale comparative to its consumption. (Source: PEDRR, 2010. Demonstrating the role of ecosystem-based management for disaster risk reduction)

Resilience – The ability of a system, community or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, accommodate to and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner, including through the preservation and restoration of its essential basic structures and functions. Resilience means the ability to “resile from” or “spring back from” a shock. The resilience of a community in respect to potential hazard events is determined by the degree to which the community has the necessary resources and is capable of organizing itself both prior to and during times of need. (UNISDR, 2016)

Sustainable ecosystems or healthy ecosystems – Imply that ecosystems are largely intact and functioning, and that human demand for ecosystem services does not impinge upon the capacity of ecosystems to maintain future generations. (Source: Sudmeier-Rieux, K. and Ash, N. 2009. Environmental guidance note for disaster risk reduction)

Vulnerability -The characteristics and circumstances of a community, system or asset that make it susceptible to the damaging effects of a hazard. Vulnerability arises from various physical, social, economic, and environmental factors, such as poor design and construction of buildings, inadequate protection of assets, lack of public information and awareness, limited official recognition of risks and preparedness measures, and disregard for wise environmental management. The losses caused by a hazard will be proportionally much greater for more vulnerable populations, e.g. those living in poverty, with weak structures, and without adequate coping capacities. (UNISDR, 2016)



IPCC (2012). Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation.  A Special Report of Working Groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, and New York, NY, USA, pp. 1-19.

IPCC (2012). Summary for Policymakers. In: Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation.  Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, and New York, NY, USA.

IUCN (2009). Environmental guidance note for disaster risk reduction.

PEDRR. (2010). Demonstrating the role of ecosystem-based management for disaster risk reduction.

UNISDR (2016). Report of the open-ended intergovernmental expert working group on indicators and terminology relating to disaster risk reduction.



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