environmentalresearchweb: why did you decide to investigate dynamics in climate risk and vulnerability assessments?

Alexandra Jurgilevich (AJ): Climate risk assessments are widely used in current adaptation policy-making, and accounting for future changes in vulnerability and exposure can contribute to more robust adaptation planning. We noticed that there is a need to include future changes of non-climatic factors that contribute to climate change risks, i.e. socio-economic and spatial factors. We decided to review the vast literature in the field and synthesize knowledge on how to approach the changes in these factors. We examined climate risk assessments that have been carried out at a sub-national level and analysed how many of them have accounted for future changes, and how they approached this issue in practice both conceptually and methodologically.

environmentalresearchweb: what's significant about your results?

AJ: We synthesized literature on conceptual approaches and linked the approaches to methods. We hope this will be useful for researchers and practitioners completing further climate risk assessments.

Our results show that half of climate risk and vulnerability assessments include future changes in either socio-economic (vulnerability) or geographic (exposure) components of climate risks. What’s more, the dynamics of both components have been accounted for in less than one-third of future-oriented studies. Half of the reviewed cases assess current climate risks based on current and/or historical data.

We suggest that climate risk assessments should be carried out including future changes in all three components – hazards, exposure and vulnerability – and propose conceptual approaches and methods to do that. Finally, we discussed the challenges and constraints associated with the inclusion of dynamics. These include, in first place, lack of future socio-economic data, along with the high levels of uncertainty, lack of resources and knowledge. We systematized the methods of accounting for future socio-economic changes and propose using a multitude of methods and multiple data sources. For example, to account for the dynamics of vulnerability as an outcome (i.e. residual vulnerability after adaptation has taken place), we suggest employing urban development plans, simulation of adaptation measures, local development scenarios, adaptation scenarios, adaptation pathways, etc.

environmentalresearchweb: how does your analysis build on previous work?

AJ: This review refers to several reviews in the field that looked at vulnerability and its conceptualization and synthesizes the literature on climate risk and vulnerability assessments. We realize how vast this field is and how many different approaches have been used in assessing vulnerability. This has also been confirmed in our analysis. We did not attempt to systematize this knowledge; instead we operationalized the most well-known climate risk and vulnerability frameworks in our conceptual approaches, namely the IPCC 2007 vulnerability framework and the IPCC 2014 climate risk framework. Our analytical framework was built on the work of Joakim et al. (2015), which proposed conceptual approaches to assessing vulnerability. We worked further on connecting these approaches with possible methods.

environmentalresearchweb: what are the implications of your findings?

AJ: Previously, literature has suggested that policies which use assessments based on current and historical data may have negative consequences in the future and even increase climate risks. We suggest that the dynamics of both exposure and vulnerability should be taken into account while carrying out climate risk assessments. Moreover, we suggest producing a range of possible future scenarios to be used in policy-making and adaptation planning in order to increase policy robustness. Additionally, for further research we propose to look at the interaction of changing exposure, vulnerability and hazards in a certain place at a certain period in the future, as well as to examine the role of adaptation in these processes.

environmentalresearchweb: how will you be taking your research forward?

AJ: Currently, we are conducting a climate risk assessment in Helsinki up to 2050, accounting for the dynamic changes in vulnerability and exposure. We are using the methods and conceptual approaches suggested in the review, and testing out new tools to integrate several methods and data. We plan to finish the assessment and testing by the end of 2017 and will work on publishing it in 2018. Hopefully, our proposed methodology will contribute to understanding and assessing future vulnerability and exposure, and will be useful for both researchers and practitioners in the field.

Jurgilevich and colleagues reported their findings in an Environmental Research Review.

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