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Assessing risks and vulnerabilities to climate change

2.2 What methodology can I use for carrying out risk or vulnerability assessment?

In order to bridge the accounting of past natural hazards and possible future risks, a risk and/or vulnerability assessment is necessary. There are a multitude of methods that can be applied for assessments in urban areas. Knowledge about the different types of methods and their outputs is important for the selection of the optimal and pragmatically feasible 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: climate threat (projected climatic conditions); context of a geographic location (e.g. coastal area, mountain region, etc.); affected sectors and systems (e.g. human health, infrastructure, transport, ports, energy, water, etc.); and the most vulnerable groups (the elderly, inhabitants of low-lying areas, people at risk of poverty, etc.)

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. And integrated risk-vulnerability assessment addresses both.

Various methods designed for risk and vulnerability assessments are applicable to citiefs. The methodologies can be distinguished between top-down or bottom-up and between quantitative and qualitative assessments.

The top-down risk/vulnerability assessments are usually based on scenarios and rely on impact modelling. They also often provide quantitative data or mapping of the risks.

Bottom-up methods usually employ local knowledge in identifying risks. The method requires stakeholder involvement, at least on sectoral expert level. These assessments are often rather 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;
  • Already 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 elements for suggested minimum content of the output are:

  • Trend of various climate variables (e.g. average temperature, heat days, intensive rainfall events, snow cover), based on one or ideally on a range of different climate scenarios,
  • Expected (direct and indirect) impacts (threats, opportunities) by identifying the most relevant hazards as well as the areas of the city that are at most risk given an overlay of spatial distribution of the total population, vulnerable populations, economic activities and economic value;
  • Timescale, with differentiated impacts expected in the short-term (2020s), medium-term (2050s), and long-term (2080s/2100);
  • 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.

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