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Terms & Definitions

This selection of terms and descriptions are drawn from multiple sources and likely will evolve over time: 100 Resilient Cities, BC Housing, Coast Adapt, International Panel on Climate Change, NYC Climate Resiliency Design Guidelines, The Guardian Style Guide, World Health Organization. Additional terms and definitions are available in the Moving Toward Climate Resilient Health Facilities for Vancouver Coastal Health report (LMFM, 2018).


Climate Resilience

Climate-Resilient Health Systems: The ability to anticipate, respond to, cope with, recover from, and adapt to climate-related shocks and stresses, so as to bring sustained improvements in population health, despite an unstable climate. See Operational Framework for Climate Resilient Health Systems (World Health Organization, 2015).


Vulnerability, Risk and Impacts

Climate Risk: The potential loss of life, injury, or destroyed or damaged assets that could occur to a system, society or a community in a specific period of time, as a result of a climatic shock or stress. Potential impacts of climate hazards to health facilities that could result in delayed timing or diminished quality of health services and patient care.

Vulnerability: Degree to which a system is susceptible to, and unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. A function of the character, magnitude, and rate of climate variation to which a system is exposed, its sensitivity and its adaptive capacity.

Exposure: The character, magnitude, and rate of change of climate change impacts to which the system is exposed.

Sensitivity: The degree to which a system could be affected adversely or beneficially by climate change.

Cascading Impacts: Consequences experienced in one system or sector that affect one or more downstream systems or sectors, which are dependent on the services of the initially-impacted system or sector. These consequences of disruptions can affect critical lifelines and the communities they serve.



Adaptation: A change in processes, practices, and structures to moderate potential damages or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate change. The process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects. In human systems, adaptation seeks to moderate or avoid harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. In some natural systems, human intervention may facilitate adjustment to expected climate and its effects.

Adaptive Capacity:  The ability of an individual or community to reduce the effects of climate change including efforts to plan for, respond to, and recover from exposures to climate change-related hazards.

Adaptation Pathway: This approach is designed to schedule adaptation decision-making: it identifies the decisions that need to be taken now and those that may be taken in future. The approach supports strategic, flexible and structured decision-making; and accounts for climate change uncertainty (e.g. beyond 2050 for temperature). It allows decision makers to plan for, prioritise and stagger investment in adaptation options. Trigger points and thresholds help to identify when to revisit decisions or actions. Visual aids such as ‘route maps’ can support communication and stakeholder consultation. The adaptation pathway approach has been successfully applied to infrastructure projects, and broader cross-sector plans.


Climate Change

Climate change: Any change in the climate over time, generally decades or longer, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity. Note: Climate change is no longer considered to accurately reflect the seriousness of the situation; use climate emergency, crisis or breakdown instead.

Climate variability: Trends in variation in climate on all temporal and spatial scales beyond that of individual weather events. Extreme weather (e.g., storms, extreme temperatures) and climate events (e.g., droughts) are part of climate variability trends.

Climate extreme: The occurrence of a value of a weather or climate variable above (or below) a threshold value near the upper (or lower) ends of the range of observed values of the variable. For simplicity, both extreme weather events and extreme climate events are referred to collectively as “climate extremes”.

Climate shock: An acute natural or human-made event or phenomenon threatening major loss of life, damage to assets and a building or community’s ability to function and provide basic services, particularly for poor or vulnerable populations. Acute shocks are sudden, sharp events that threaten a city, including: earthquakes, floods, disease outbreaks, terrorist attacks. Climate shocks are acute shocks related to weather, including extreme heat events (or “heat waves”), storms (e.g., ice, snow, and wind), and storm surge from oceans and rivers.

Climate stress: A chronic (ongoing or cyclical) natural or human-made event or phenomenon that renders a building or community less able to function and provide basic services, particularly for poor or vulnerable populations. Chronic stresses are slow-moving disasters that weaken the fabric of a city. They include: high unemployment, overtaxed or inefficient public transportation system, endemic violence, and chronic food and water shortages. Climate stresses are chronic stresses caused by climate change, and include prolonged droughts, increasing temperatures, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification.

Climate projections: The simulated response of the climate system to a scenario of future emissions or concentration of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and aerosols, generally derived using climate models.  Climate projections are distinguished from climate predictions by their dependence on the emission/concentration/ radiative forcing scenario used, which is in turn based on assumptions concerning, for example, future socioeconomic and technological developments that may or may not be realized.