Social Cohesion: The Secret Weapon in the Fight for Equitable Climate Resilience

From the Center for American Progress, this report discusses the role that social cohesion plays in preparedness and response to climate change induced extreme weather events, with a focus on the vulnerability of low-income communities. Methods to integrate community resilience into climate resilience, and specific recommendations to foster climate and social resilience are provided. In addition to the value of social cohesion in climate resilience, the report details how addressing the unique housing, economic and health vulnerabilities of low-income groups will in turn have benefits for the community at large. Social cohesion is defined here as the degree to which a community’s members are engaged with each other. A cohesive social community does not require that all members have common values; however, a cohesive society works toward the well-being of all members, promotes trust and belonging, and provides opportunities for upward social mobility.

The report describes how social cohesion contributes to resilience before, during, and after extreme weather events: 

Before: by helping identify vulnerable communities and forging partnerships among NGOs, municipal governments, and community organizations

Define social cohesion and justify why social cohesion should be part of an adaptation strategy. 

by filling gaps in the absence of government support

After: by maximizing resources through collective action (such as coordinated buyouts)

The challenges faced by low-income communities include increased reliance on public housing, which leads to housing vulnerability, where residents are more likely to live in neighborhoods with poor-quality housing and infrastructure. Low-income housing is more vulnerable to extreme weather, is located in areas that are more likely to experience extreme weather, and is slow to be rebuilt. 

Extreme weather’s effect on wages, prices, and safety net programs places burdens on low-income communities that need to be accounted for in climate resilience and emergency planning. Low-income communities experience economic vulnerability on multiple fronts including living in less energy efficient homes that result in higher utility bills and less ability to respond to extreme temperatures. Extreme weather events can jeopardize the economic health of low-income workers and those on public assistance.

Finally, because pollutants are more concentrated in low-income communities and communities of color, there is increased health vulnerability in these communities.

Some of the final overall recommendations include: 

  • Developing strong community cohesion before an extreme weather event can help improve climate resilience, even when communities are threatened by climate displacement. 
  • States and federal agencies should work with local leaders to create and support networks of socially cohesive communities in order to improve the outcomes and costs of climate displacement.
  • Mapping climate and socioeconomic vulnerability can help direct resources toward outreach efforts, network building, and community-based initiatives that promote social cohesion in communities, which in turn fosters climate resilience.
  • Agencies should develop equitable post-disaster funding programs that improve outcomes for low-income communities.  


Publication Date: May 2015

Author or Affiliated User:

  • Danielle Baussan

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Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Best practice
  • Engagement


  • Socioeconomic

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