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Assessing climate change risks and vulnerabilities

2.4 Conducting risk and vulnerability assessments

Planning adaptation at the local level requires an understanding of the current and projected climate hazards (see Step 2.1 and Step 2.2) as well as an understanding of the vulnerable sectors of the city (Step 2.3). These two factors are combined in a risk and vulnerability assessment. There are a multitude of methods that can be applied to conduct risk and vulnerability assessments in urban areas. Knowledge about the different types of methods and their outputs is important for the selection of the most efficient and effective method to be applied in accordance with the capacities of the local authorities.

Climate change risks in a city or town should be characterised from the point of view of several aspects: the climate threat (projected climatic conditions); context of the geographic location (e.g. coastal area, mountain region, etc.); and affected sectors and systems (e.g. human health, infrastructure, transport, ports, energy, water, social well-being, etc.) including the impacts on the most vulnerable groups (e.g. the elderly, he homeless, those at risk of poverty, etc.).

 This step supports Covenant of Mayors signatory cities to develop their Risk and Vulnerability Assessment (RVA). Under the Covenant of Mayors reporting framework, the Risk and Vulnerability Assessment incorporates data on climate hazards, vulnerable sectors, adaptive capacity and vulnerable population groups. In terms of climate hazards, signatory cities are requested to define the probability and impact of the most relevant hazards, their expected change in intensity and frequency, as well as timescales. This is done via a defined indication of the level of confidence. For each identified climate hazard, the vulnerable sectors and their vulnerability level is defined. Further, an assessment of the adaptive capacity at the sectoral level is defined, using positive adaptive capacity categories, such as access to services, governmental and institutional capacity, physical and environmental capacity, knowledge and innovation. It is also possible to assign indicators for the identified vulnerable sectors and adaptive capacity. All above described components of the RVA, along with sample indicators are available in the reporting platform MyCovenant (see also the offline working version of the reporting template).

Risk assessments focus primarily on the projected changes in climatic conditions, inventory of potentially impacted assets, the likelihood of the impact happening and the resulting consequences. Vulnerability assessments emphasise exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity of systems, assets and populations. Integrated risk and vulnerability assessments address both the vulnerability to and the impacts of climatic hazards.

The methods designed for risk and vulnerability assessments can be divided into top-down methods, which are usually based on quantitative data (e.g. census data, downscaled climate models) and use mapping; and bottom-up methods that often employ local knowledge to identify risks and are generally qualitative in nature.

Indicator-based vulnerability assessments use sets of pre-defined indicators that can be both quantitative and qualitative and can be assessed both through modelling or stakeholder consultation.

A quick risk screening method, which is based on existing knowledge, can be employed first-hand to have a clearer understanding of the needs for an in-depth assessment.

The choice of the risk or vulnerability assessment methodology should be guided by:

  • Human and financial resources at hand;
  • Data availability;
  • Existing knowledge;
  • Level of stakeholder involvement;
  • Scale and range of potential risks;
  • Preferred type of outputs for further adaptation action planning.

Regardless of the method applied, the assessment should, at minimum, take the following elements into consideration:

  • Trends of various climate variables (e.g. average and extreme temperature, number of days with extreme heat, intensive rainfall events, snow cover), ideally based on a range of different climate scenarios;
  • Expected (direct and indirect) impacts (threats and opportunities) by identifying the most relevant hazards as well as the areas of the city that are at most risk given an overlay of the spatial distribution of the total population, vulnerable populations, economic activities and economic values;
  • Timescale, such as short, medium (e.g. 2050s) or long-term (e.g. end of century);
  • An indication on the level of confidence (e.g. high, medium, low) for such impacts, with a view of facilitating the decision-making process given the degree of uncertainty attached to the results.

 The Covenant of Mayors webinar on "Assessing risks and vulnerabilities" features experiences of Covenant signatory cities and their approach to conducting an RVA.


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Case studies

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Guidance and tools

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EU-funded projects

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