Assessing the vulnerability

Step 2. Assessing climate change vulnerability and risks

Climate change will generate a multitude of impacts on the Adriatic communities. Not only extreme events (e.g. heatwaves, extreme precipitation, flooding, wildfire) are intensifying in magnitude and frequency, but also slow-onset changes (e.g. increase in temperatures, change in precipitation patterns, sea-level rise) are occurring, which will mostly bring unfavourable climatic conditions with consequent damages and losses. Understanding the present and future vulnerabilities to climate hazards is essential to design responses and actions aiming at strengthening the society’s resilience and adaptation capacity. A community is not isolated from the surrounding regions. Climate change hazards that do not directly impact a considered territory can still have severe repercussions on areas providing essential services for that territory. Vice versa, climate impacts occurring in a given community can affect the surrounding areas. Thus, the vulnerability and risk assessment calls for an integrated approach and requires looking at the interfaces with neighbouring areas.

  • Identifying and assessing the current and future climate hazards

No assessment can cover all climate hazards in equal detail. A selection and prioritization of those relevant for the considered local context can help focusing the assessment efforts and matching the overarching adaptation goals set in step 1. Once identified, the relevant climate hazards need to be analysed in terms of the past trends, current status and expected future changes. Although the direction of the global climate change is doubtless, the extension and details of the change are not completely certain, in particular at the local scale. Climate scenarios help describe possible future climate conditions with differences depending on different rates of increase in global greenhouse gas emissions. Such climate scenarios are developed taking into account global conditions, and can be “translated” (downscaled) to the specific local or regional conditions. The analysis of the current and future climate hazards relevant for the local context is an activity which requires a high level of scientific expertise. Usually, this is not available in the administrations in charge of adaptation. Collaboration with universities and research centres, as well as synergies with climate analysis initiatives taken at a larger scale (e.g. climate change scenarios and projections developed for a Regional or National Adaptation Strategy or Plan) can help in this regard. Scenarios do not provide climate predictions; they rather represent possible evolutions of the climatic system. Therefore, regardless of who deals with their evaluation, it is of paramount importance that climate change scenarios are provided with the ancillary information needed for their understanding and correct use (spatial resolution, baseline period of reference, projections timeframe, underpinning greenhouse gas emission scenarios, uncertainties, etc.). 

  • Selecting priority impacts of the climate change

Once the relevant climate change hazards have been identified, it is recommended to focus the successive vulnerability and risk assessment on their major direct and indirect impacts. Priority impacts are those expected to significantly affect the considered territory as a whole (e.g. a flooding impacting settlements and affecting their residents, services and infrastructure) or several of its natural and artificial elements and human activities (e.g. agriculture, forestry, biodiversity, buildings and infrastructure, energy systems, transport, tourism, marine habitats, fisheries and other marine activities, water management, etc.). As for the previous sub-step, the collaboration with universities and research centres, as well as the wider discussion with all stakeholders (see Governance AO for more details), can support the prioritization exercise.

  • Assessing vulnerability and risks to the climate change

For each relevant climate change impact, vulnerability and risks shall be evaluated to provide the needed information for the identification of long-term adaptive response actions. In the context of the climate change, according to the IPCC, vulnerability can be defined as the degree to which a territory, its community and activities are unable to cope with the adverse effects of the climate change, including climate variability and extremes. The assessment of the vulnerability of a system requires therefore the study of its exposure and sensitivity to a given climate change hazard and of its already acquired adaptation capacity. The combined assessment of the vulnerability, the magnitude of the climatic hazard and the value of the most exposed receptors provides an estimation of the climate risk associated with the considered hazards and territory. A great variety of methods are available to assess vulnerability and risks to the climate change. These can be roughly categorised as top-down and bottom-up approaches. Top-down assessments are usually based on data and use mapping and other quantitative tools to assess socio-economic and environmental data. For example, they can provide damage estimations expected for the entire territory or for parts of it. Bottom-up assessments generally rely on the local knowledge and are qualitative in nature. They often rely on the involvement of local stakeholders. A combination of the two approaches is recommended, whenever possible.

  • Transferring the results to the visioning and planning steps

The assessment of the climate change vulnerability and risks requires the digestion of a rich and wide variety of data and information. Adaptation can only succeed if the environment is able to provide ecosystem services; therefore assessment of the major risks for sustainable development should also be done. It is of great importance that the results of such analysis are smoothly transferred to the visioning (step 3) and the planning phases (step 4) of the adaptation process. To this regard, data and information must be condensed in the knowledge to be promptly and properly used for the identification, design and implementation of adaptation measures. This sub-step implies the adoption of a simple approach for the communication of the step 2 results to a wide audience, also highlighting the related assumptions and uncertainty.

Outcomes of the step 2:

  • Extended and summary reports on the past trends, current status and future projections of the most relevant climate change hazards
  • Extended and summary report of the assessment of vulnerability and risks related to major climate change impacts
  • Key messages for the planning phase: most relevant climate hazards and the related vulnerability and risks