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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 Steps 2.1 and 2.2) as well as the understanding of the vulnerable sectors of the city (Step 2.3). These two factors are combined in a risk and vulnerability assessment.  There is 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: 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, social well-being, including the impacts on the most vulnerable groups  (e.g. the elderly, he homeless, those 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 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 risk/vulnerability assessments, which are usually based on quantitative data (e.g census data, downscaled climate models) and use mapping; and bottom-up methods, usually employing local knowledge in identifying risks and being 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 and extreme temperature, number of days with extreme heat, intensive rainfall events, snow cover), ideally based 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 (short-, medium (e.g. 2050s) and 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.


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Guidance and tools

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EU-funded projects

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