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Urban Insight

Sweco Group

The search for resilience in a world of polycrisis


Today, disasters cause around 300 billion dollars in economic losses annually. If we account for impacts on well-being, the total is closer to 520 billion dollars. In our latest FREE Urban Insight report, “The search for resilience in a world of polycrisis”, Sweco is addresses resilience, global risks and the required actions to plan and design resilient communities.

The road towards resilient societies

In the wake of all ongoing crises in the world, resilience has become more critical than ever for communities in order for them to prepare, adapt and recover. Sweco’s Urban Insight kicks off this year’s theme, Resilient Societies, with a deep dive into the concept as well as thoughts and input from experts.

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The outbreak of Covid-19, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the recent earthquake in Turkey and Syria are shocks to many communities. Meanwhile, climate change has continued unabated, giving rise to new extreme weather events. All of this has in turn given rise to an economic instability with increasing inflation, an energy crisis, insecure supply chains, cyber-attacks and an approaching recession.

Cities have a significant role to play when it comes to developing resilient societies:

  • It is estimated that nearly 84% of the fastest growing cities are highly vulnerable to disaster/ climate risks putting 4 trillion dollars (3.76 trillion euros) worth of assets at risk.
  • Almost 500 million urban residents live in high-risk coastal areas. In the 136 biggest coastal cities, there are 100 million people and 4.7 trillion dollars (4.42 trillion euros) in assets exposed to coastal floods.
  • People exposed to natural hazards in the poorest nations are more than seven times more likely to die than equivalent populations in the richest nations.
  • Only 7% of economic losses from flood events in emerging markets – and 31% in advanced economies – have been covered by insurance in the last 20 years.

By 2030, without significant investment in making cities more resilient, natural disasters may cost cities worldwide 314 billion dollars each year, up from around 250 billion dollars today, and climate change may push up to 77 million urban residents into poverty, according to the World Bank.

The energy supply crisis, the cost-of-living crisis, rising inflation, the food supply crisis and cyber attacks on critical infrastructure are among the top risks for 2023 with the greatest potential impact on global scale, according to World Economic Forum Global Risks Perception Survey 2022-2023.

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Not surprisingly, discussions at the recently concluded World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos revolved around polycrises – the synergies that several simultaneous crises can give rise to.

As a consequence, heads are now turning towards something that has been in the shadows far too long – resilience.

“The risks are far from independent of each other. We will likely increasingly be exposed to situations where risks interact and lead to events we did not expect,” says Thomas Elmqvist, professor in Natural Resource Management at Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University.


“We need to think about how we build general resilience with redundancy and diversity, so we can face an increasingly unpredictable future.”

Today, great emphasis is also placed on not only recovering and restoring to the initial state, but reaching a new higher level where the resilience to withstand new shocks or changes is greater than before, in other words “build back better”.

One lesson we have learned in recent years is that we have rewarded efficiency over resilience. We have created a resilience debt. We have not built preparation for a changing risk landscape into our systems

Carolina Klint Risk Management Leader, Continental Europe, Marsh & Co-author of the Global Risks Report

Resilient societies – 3 key take-away messages

There are several large-scale, long-term threats that will affect the communities and are therefore important to consider.

  1. Resilience and sustainability don’t always go hand in hand – by pushing only one of the aspects, you risk losing redundancy and diversity in a system. We need to talk about resilience and sustainability. Simultaneously.
  2. Crises are often a resilience catalyst and can lead to both short term and long term actions. The meaning of resilience has moved from just bouncing back to bouncing back better.
  3. Polycrises – the synergies that several simultaneous crises can give rise to. The risks are far from independent of each other. We will likely increasingly be exposed to situations where risks interact and lead to events we did not expect. The same can be said for investments in resilience and measures. An action can spill over into other types of risks.