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Assessing risks and vulnerabilities to climate change

2.8 How do I identify the main adaptation concerns and set the strategic direction?

The information from your vulnerability assessment (see Q2.5) provides a list of the risks and opportunities arising from climate change. Prioritisation exercise can then turn it into a list of priorities for actions (e.g. which sector or which climate impact should be addressed first). Given the broad nature of climate change risks and opportunities, it is advisable to carry out prioritisation with the help of stakeholders, for example by using workshops to discuss and prioritise risks. The outcome of this work will give you the strategic direction. 


To turn the identified risks and vulnerabilities into a list of targeted actions, prioritisation exercise should be carried out. This enables the list of risks to be presented in a meaningful and clear semi-quantitative format that clearly sets out the highest priorities for adaptation. It is commonly done through the use of a ‘prioritisation matrix'. Several methodologies have been developed and are being used by adaptation decision-makers, as listed below.

In general, the main issues to be considered  for risk prioritisation are:

  • Impacts that are already currently observed;
  • The likelihood and severity of impact of the corresponding risks over the near term, the medium term and the long term;
  • Whether the risk is within the mandate of the municipality or engaged partners;
  • Existing adaptation addressing the risk (see Q1.5 ); and
  • Risks that might affect systems/sectors irreversibly.

Given the broad nature of climate change risks and opportunities, it is advisable to carry out this prioritisation with the help of stakeholders, for example by using workshops to discuss and prioritise risks. Stakeholder engagement might be budget and time-intensive, adding to the length of time required to find priorities; however, if priorities are set in common agreement, the adaptation strategy and its implementation has a higher chance of acceptance success. For more on stakeholder engagement, see Q1.6.

Climate risks could also be translated into monetary terms via a cost-benefit assessment, which also allows for a comparison with the non-climatic risks and a perspective on how important in the overall risk landscape the climate change-related risks are. For more on the methodologies of cost-benefit analyses, see Q4.3.

Finally, the strategic direction should be defined in terms of short-term, medium-term and long-term objectives based on the knowledge of projected climate change, socio-economic development and other non-climatic factors. This also requires taking into account other strategies and strategic aims of the city in its various sectors. It is therefore essential to be in an ongoing dialogue with other policy departments in order to coordinate the aim-setting with the current initiatives that may help (or hinder) the reduction of vulnerability and management of climate risks. Relevant cross-sectoral strategies may include:

  • Sustainable development strategies
  • Water management (e.g. River Basin Management plans)
  • Housing (e.g. refurbishment of social housing programmes)
  • Planning (e.g. spatial development plans, urban regeneration strategies)
  • Health (e.g. heat-wave plans, disease outbreak response plans)
  • Emergency services (e.g. flood response plans)
  • Social services (e.g. identification of vulnerable groups, social aims)
  • Nature and Biodiversity (e.g. strategies to increase green spaces or manage Natura2000 sites)
  • Transport (e.g. new infrastructure projects such as new train lines or urban rail/ tram projects)
  • Energy (e.g. renewable energy investments dependent on wind, solar, bio-energy or hydropower)
  • Climate change mitigation strategies
  • Tourism (e.g. strategies to boost regional economies through the development and support of tourism ventures and SMEs)
  • Regional economic strategies (e.g. plans to boost investment in regional economies and stimulate economic growth through incentives and infrastructure development)
There is no doubt that collecting and integrating all this information is a difficult and time-consuming task. However, this step is highly valuable when developing a consistent adaptation strategy and allows proactively identifying and smoothing out potential conflicts with other policy lines and objectives.


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