2 Current climate vulnerability

Step 2 will help you to:

  • assess how vulnerable your organisation is to the current climate;
  • provide background knowledge to help you think about how future climate change might affect you;
  • identify where your organisation’s response to previous weather events could inform your adaptation plan.

In this context, vulnerability is the degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes (IPCC, 2007).

Vulnerability is determined by your organisation’s:

  • exposure to climate hazards
  • sensitivity to climatic variability
  • capacity to adapt.

See Figure 2 for more detail.

In addition to assessing the impacts of weather, this section will enable you to raise awareness and engage colleagues by demonstrating those impacts in the context of your organisation.

2.1 How have previous weather events affected your organisation?

Think about how you are already affected by the climate at different time of the year.

Also consider the effects that extreme weather, such as heavy rainfall, coastal flooding, droughts, very hot days and storms had on your organisation. For example:

  • How were you affected by the floods of the summer of 2007, the hot summers of 2003 and 2006, or the snow and subsequent ice melt in early 2010?
  • What were the consequences of those weather events for your organisation?
  • What actions were taken to address them?
  • Were any critical thresholds passed that had an impact on your operations?

If the effects of weather impacts are not immediately obvious, do not assume that you are not vulnerable. Vulnerability can often be hidden within an organisation, or managed or tolerated in a way that masks its effects.

Completing the tasks with colleagues will help to identify where your organisation is sensitive to these events – operational staff and long standing employees may remember events that were not officially recorded. A brainstorming workshop and reference to relevant company records should help you discover the information.

Working through an Local Climate Impacts Profile (LCLIP) will help you with this step.

2.2 How well did your organisation cope?

Your capacity to cope with adverse weather is an important indicator of your vulnerability to the future climate. If an organisation has measures in place to deal with adverse weather, it is unlikely to be particularly vulnerable to the future climate. However, an organisation that doesn’t appear to be affected by the current weather may be unable to deal with the impacts of climate change.

Identifying and assessing the effectiveness of existing mechanisms will provide vital insights into improvements or changes you may need to make to improve your capacity to adapt, and is a useful input to Step 4.

2.3 Is it possible to identify any critical thresholds?

A critical threshold is the point in a system at which sudden or rapid change occurs.

Identifying critical thresholds which, if exceeded, would cause unacceptable consequences for your organisation will help you to manage your climate risk. The changing climate could mean that a critical threshold will be exceeded more frequently than in the past – you will need to adapt to those changes in order to manage your risks to an acceptable level.

It is important that you identify and understand your organisation’s, and any relevant regulatory bodies’, attitude to risk before you can come to any conclusions about what is an acceptable level.

Thresholds may be:

  • based on a physical property, for example, the water level at which a river bursts its banks, or a temperature threshold above which machinery cannot operate effectively
  • or based on attitude to risk, for example, the 1 in 200 year event period that is a standard for assessing coastal flood risk.

Critical thresholds may also relate to positive opportunities. For example, research suggests that when monthly average daytime temperatures exceed 18°C, drinkers switch from other alcoholic beverages to cider, resulting in a marked increase in cider sales.

2.4 How confident are you in this assessment?

Be explicit about the quality and validity of the information behind your assessment. If your analysis is based on uncertain or anecdotal information, make a note of any limitations. Also be explicit about any assumptions you have made so that others can understand the outputs and thinking.

Find out more about any important issues that have emerged in this Step.

2.1: Make a note of your organisation’s sensitivity to current weather variability by completing columns (a) to (g) in Table 2.1

Describe past weather events that have affected your organisation, giving specific details of each particular weather event where possible.

Identify the consequences of those weather events for your organisation and quantifying these as far as possible.

From those consequences, identify any critical thresholds that were exceeded. For example, a windspeed above which operations have to stop for health and safety reasons; a temperature threshold above which staff performance or customer complaints increase significantly; a point at which quality of service fines maybe imposed.

Make a note of your information sources, and how confident you are in that information. For example, if you draw on news sources and your organisation’s own records, you may have more confidence in one source of information than the other.

Reanalyse the records you think could increase your organisation’s understanding of the impacts of particular past weather events.

Identify which records could be monitored in an on-going basis – this information will feed into Steps 4 and 5.

2.2: Assess how well your organisation coped with past extreme weather events and make a judgement on your organisation’s capacity to respond to weather disruption

Using your partially completed Table 2.1:

Identify actions taken to deal with past weather events (in column f).

Describe how effective those actions were (column g).

Consider what characteristics of your organisation enabled it to cope with that event. For example, these may include:

  • strong leadership
  • well established working from home policies and practices
  • effective business continuity management
  • good emergency and contingency plans, etc.

Make a record of these characteristics.

Make a note of obvious gaps, omissions or features of the organisation that hindered its response. For example, these could include:

  • financial
  • institutional
  • cultural
  • organisational.

Understanding what prevented an adequate response will suggest adaptation actions (Step 4).

2.3: Where possible, identify critical thresholds

Using Table 2.1, make sure you have recorded critical thresholds for specific events as far as is possible (column c). Don’t forget to capture opportunities as well as threats.

If you need additional help in identifying critical thresholds, draw on specialist outside knowledge.

  • LCLIP provides guidance on how to assess your organisation’s vulnerability to current and recent past weather events.
  • Climate Trends Tableau is an interactive tool developed by Adaptation Scotland for investigating climate statistics produced by the Met Office National Climate Information Centre. Create graphs for any combination of 7 climate variables, 3 regions plus all of Scotland, and a choice of monthly, seasonal or annual averages.
  • The Met Office provides UK-wide maps of climate anomalies. Maps are available for monthly, seasonal and annual averages, to answer questions such as “when was it last as hot as this summer?”.
  • The Met Office Hadley Centre monitors a broad range of climate variables and indices worldwide for climate monitoring and climate modelling work. UK monthly summary and climate averages are available.
  • Guidance prepared by RIVM on assessing and handling uncertainty is recommended reading.