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Step 1: Identify Climate Vulnerability Exposure

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Guiding question: Who is vulnerable? What are the present and future stresses and threats?

Vulnerability is the foundation of the analysis of adaptive strategies and measures. The depth of vulnerability assessment required depends on existing material and the extent to which new research is required. The aim is to focus on high priority adaptation, and not to model vulnerability in detail. A widely used approach to sustainable livelihoods was developed by DFID and IDS (see Eldis – Livelihoods Connect for details). The approach shows livelihoods as exposed to shocks and threats, with livelihood strategies linking institutions and outcomes. The characteristics of livelihoods are often called the five capitals: human resources, natural resources, finance, physical infrastructure and assets, and social networks and relationships. This method evaluates vulnerability by asking two questions.

  • Who is vulnerable? The first step is to identify vulnerable socio-economic groups. A livelihoods approach is proposed that is compatible with a poverty alleviation focus. Livelihoods are related to economic sectors, public infrastructure and ecosystem services.

The first step is to list the livelihoods in the region, such as farmers (smallholders and commercial), fisherfolk, pastoralists and urban poor. Then work backward to list the productive activities of these livelihoods, such as food cropping, cash cropping, small livestock and off-farm casual labour (for smallholder farmers). In turn, those activities depend on a range of sectoral services (such as local and national markets), public infrastructure (roads and ports) and ecosystem services (watershed groundwater recharge). Thus, the rows of the livelihood matrix are a hierarchy of the ecosystem, public and economic services that are essential in productive activities, which are elements of common livelihoods. For example, a general relationship between climate and the soil water balance will affect a variety of crop and livestock production activities, which are the major components of some livelihoods. More generally, this chain comprises the units of exposure: those elements in ecosystems, populations and economies that are subject to climatic hazards and trends.

The aim of this step is to identify the relevant stakeholders, the nature of their interest in and support for climate change adaptation, and their links to the vulnerable livelihoods identified above. It is a good way to begin to link a project planning cycle with the key stakeholders who will implement the adaptation activities.More details on producing a livelihood-vulnerability matrix are given here.

  • What are the present and future stresses and threats? Vulnerable groups are exposed to a range of present climatic hazards, trends in climatic resources that may become significant in the near future, and other environmental, economic, and socio-political stresses.Identifying the location, vulnerable groups, livelihoods, climate hazards and other stressors is a key first step in the process of risk assessment and mapping.

This question begins by listing the present climatic threats (or opportunities) and trends that are significant for the vulnerable livelihoods. Some judgement is required to separate the continuum of weather and climate into distinct threats. For instance, drought is almost always a threat in some form for rural livelihoods. But drought is a continuum from a dry spell of a few days to a seasonal shortage of rainfall to episodes of drought over a year or more.

It may be useful to add other stresses and shocks that exacerbate the effects of climatic hazards. For instance, AIDS/HIV infection, economic recession and civil strife would alter the range of coping strategies that different livelihoods might employ in order to cope with droughts or floods. These become important if they directly affect the adaptive capacity of livelihoods and the ability to implement proposed adaptation strategies.

The purpose of this step is to identify:

– measurable climate variables that can be obtained from climate information systems (for the present) and archives of global climate change models (for relevant time periods in the future).

– gaps in knowledge where additional sectoral and livelihood studies are required (or may be available but not brought into the team’s expertise), at the local to national and even regional levels.

– climate variables and thresholds of concern that would be required in planning adaptation strategies and measures.

– factors that contribute to current vulnerability


-Identify project sites and similar regions.

– Identify locations and spatial extent of major climate hazards. Locate vulnerable groups.

– Map location of vulnerable groups

– Identify factors that contribute to current vulnerability

– Identify hotspots where higher-resolution work should be conducted

This process will also benefit from the identification of local knowledge of current adaptation and coping strategies in extreme or unusual conditions ACCCA Guidance Note on Defining Variables for Threshold Analysis in Vulnerability. An example of this exercise conducted in Vietnam can be seen here.

Related Pages

Step 2: Assessing Conditions and Trends

Step 3: Identifying Hazards

Step 4: Analysing the Impacts of Climate Change

Step 5: Understanding Trends

Related resources

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