3 Future climate vulnerability

Step 3 contains information on how the climate is expected to change, and will help you to assess how those climatic changes could affect you.

In this section, we focus on the UK climate as that is where we are based. However, the process remains the same for any region or country, but using the appropriate climate projections.

3.1 How is the climate expected to change?

Although the climate will continue to vary from year to year, climate projections for the UK suggest that we can expect the following changes:

  • higher average temperatures, particularly in summer and winter
  • changes in seasonal rainfall patterns
  • rising sea levels
  • more very hot days and heatwaves
  • more intense downpours of rain
  • higher intensity storms

As well as changes in average climate, there could be changes in weather extremes. Some weather extremes (such as very hot days and intense downpours of rain) could become more common. Others, such as snowfall, could become less common.

Extreme events are by definition rare, but they often have the most significant impacts. Unfortunately, they are also difficult to predict, so information on future weather extremes is less certain.

3.2 What are the main climate impacts for my sector or location?

The UK government’s Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) identified that climate impacts will vary from sector to sector. The report sets out the adaptation priorities for five main sectors – these may help you to understand your organisation’s climate vulnerability:

  • Agriculture and forestry
  • Business, industries and services
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Natural environment
  • Buildings and infrastructure

Impacts will also vary according to your location – our 2005 report, Measuring Progess, summarises the likely effects of climate change across regions of the UK.

In addition, we recommend you carry out a simple assessment to identify potential climate impacts on your organisation or activity. The BACLIAT workshop approach is a simple tool to help you to bring together the collective experience of your colleagues.

3.3 Are there indirect climate impacts to consider?

Some indirect impacts may emerge from Task 3.2, but considering them explicitly will help ensure you don’t miss out something very important.

Ask yourself whether there could be any knock-on effects. For example, the UK tourist industry could gain from a longer tourist season and more reliable summer weather. However, increasing numbers of tourists would increase demand for water at a time of decreased water availability.

There may be other non-climate factors, such as industry or market trends that could indicate new threats or opportunities that are not currently an issue. For example, telecoms companies may consider the sensitivity of optical fibres to weather and climate in the knowledge that this technology is expected to be widely used in the future.

It is important to remember that some individuals and groups (e.g. beneficiaries, customers, colleagues etc.) may be especially vulnerable to both the direct and indirect impacts of climate change. For example, an elderly person who cannot drive may be vulnerable during a flood – even if their home is not inundated – if the bus to the shops is cancelled.

3.4 What risks do these climate impacts present?

Once you have identified the likely impacts on your organisation, and the threats and opportunities they represent, you need to determine the risk of each of those potential impacts.

A risk assessment involves assessing:

  • the probability, or likelihood, of the impact occurring and
  • the magnitude, or consequence, of the impact should it occur.

The product of these factors represents risk:

the probability of occurrence x the consequence of occurrence = risk

Impacts that are highly likely to occur, and which would have serious consequences, would be considered high risk, high priority impacts and would fall into the red, top right corner of Figure 3. Insignificant impacts that are unlikely to occur would present little risk and would fall into the green, lower left corner of the diagram. You now need to determine what risk each of the impacts you have identified, poses to you.

There are several approaches to risk assessment. If your organisation has its own in-house risk assessment methods, you should use these. If you are new to risk assessment, complete the tasks for this step to help you to conduct a very simple and qualitative assessment of climate risks. For a more comprehensive treatment of risk assessment, refer to a risk framework such as the UKCIP Risk report.

Please note that if you are making an important investment decision or designing a major project, you must complete a formal risk assessment; the high level approach presented here will not be detailed enough.

It is important that you assess the degree of risk for each impact for the present day as well as for your chosen future time periods. Some risks might diminish with time, while others increase. This could be due to changes in the nature of the climate (e.g. less winter snowfall or more flash flooding), or changes in your exposure to risk.

Make sure you make a note of your reasoning if you expect your exposure to decrease – the actions or factors that you expect to reduce your exposure will only come about if you make them happen. These should be included as adaptation options in Task 4.1.

Even if your organisation is not directly sensitive to climate, there could be indirect climate impacts on your other areas of risk. In some cases, climate impacts will add to your other business risks rather than present a new set of risks.

3.5 Will climate risks be more or less important than others?

Climate risk is likely to be just one of a number of factors – think about the non-climate risks that your organisation faces. This will allow you to examine your climate risks in relation to non-climate risks and consider which will have the greatest impact on your organisation. You can then make decisions according to their relative importance, e.g.?

3.6 What are the priority risks that need an adaptation response?

Once you have completed the tasks for Steps 3.4 and 3.5, your organisation’s priority climate risks should now be clear. Make sure you have identified and made a note of:

  • high impact/high priority risks that you face already
  • risks that will increase most rapidly due to climate change, especially if they cross a critical threshold
  • risks where it will take some time to plan and implement your adaptation response
  • where you want an early-mover advantage on a climate change business opportunity
  • where there is a non-climate driver for taking action, such as health and safety, mitigation or reputation.

3.7 Do you need to find out more?

You may need to find out more about your vulnerability to certain risks before you can decide on an adaptation plan. Continue to develop plans for your other significant risks at the same time – don’t let further investigation of some risks prevent your work on better understood risks.

Quantify the likely costs of your climate risks using an in-house or external team of experts. As the nature of any economic analysis will be specific to each situation and commercially sensitive, our guidance is limited to highlighting key issues and suggesting tools to help.

3.1: How is the climate expected to change?

Decide how detailed you need the climate information to be and make a note of your reasoning. For example, headline messages may be adequate for a high level risk assessment, but you will need more in-depth information to undertake a comprehensive analysis.

Try to focus on the information that is directly useful and don’t be distracted by the details you will not need!

If you are based in the UK, familiarise yourself with the UK Climate Projections (UKCP09) resources to explore how the climate of the UK is expected to change up to 2100:

  • See What is UKCP09? for the guiding principles for using UKCP09 before you begin. It is important that you understand the terminology and what the Projections can and cannot do.
  • Key findings describe the main changes we can expect for the UK, for projected temperature and precipitation changes for three time periods, three greenhouse gas emissions scenarios and a range of probability levels.
  • Maps & graphs pages are useful for visualising projected changes. There are downloadable versions for use in presentations and reports for the UK as a whole.

Reports & guidance cover the various components of UKCP09:

  • Briefing report: a summary of UKCP09 for the general reader.
  • Climate change projections report is a more in-depth look at the purpose and design of the UKCP09 methodology, and is written for a range of levels of expertise.
  • Weather Generator report outlines the needs for and principles of the UKCP09 Weather Generator, and describes how it can be used. This is a very technical element of UKCP09 and not recommended for a novice.
  • Output from the Weather Generator can be processed with the Threshold Detector using your own thresholds identified in Task 2.3. It will count occurrences where your threshold has been exceeded, resulting in downloadable data.
  • Marine & coastal report is an overview of changes in the marine environment around the UK, showing key findings and the science behind the results.
  • If you need information on any specific terms used in UKCP09, try the site Index.
  • Other customisable output is also available from the UKCP09 User Interface (registration required).

If you are considering a major investment, e.g. in long-term infrastructure, you should look at the changes described by other climate modelling centres to ensure you have a full a picture as possible (e.g. the results from other IPCC models can be viewed using the Data Distribution Centre visualisation tool).

If you are not based in the UK, there are a number of countries who have free-to-use regional climate change projections. Please note that the type of information available will vary from country to country.

3.2: What are the key climate impacts for my organisation?

Download the Checklist of climate variables table and identify all of the variables that are relevant to your organisation now, along with those that may present a problem in the future.

Using your completed Table 2.1, copy the climate variables you identified in column (a) into column (a) of Table 3.2. Also include the additional variables you identified as likely to present problems in the future.

Enter any specific information for a particular event or threshold into column (b).

Make a note of the timescale, emissions and scenarios/climate projections you are basing your assessment on in column (c), particularly if you are using more detailed information rather than simple headline messages.

The timescale for your assessment should consider the longevity of your assets, the time required for the decision-making process and the lead-in time needed to implement new actions.

In column (d), describe how those climate variables in column (a) – and specific events in (b), if applicable – are expected to change in future. Create additional tables or sheets if you are using multiple projections.

In column (e), identify the activity, group, region or resource (known as an exposure unit) or person, place or item affected (known as a receptor). You may find the BACLIAT tool helpful – it identifies six generic business functions: people, premises, processes, markets, logistics and finance. Consider how each business function might be affected by changes to your identified variables.

Identify negative impacts (threats) and positive impacts (opportunities) that could result from future climate change in columns (f) and (g). Make a note of any critical thresholds are likely to be crossed under the projected future climate, and note the consequences.

Think about the scale and implications of the potential consequences and quantify them as far as possible. Make a note in column (h).

3.3: Are there indirect climate impacts that need to be considered?

Identify any indirect climate impacts, knock-on effects and impacts that could become important due to non-climate factors, and enter these into Table 3.2 under the ‘Indirect impacts’ row.

Working in partnership with others inside or outside of your organisation means you are more likely to identify indirect impacts.

3.4: What risks do these climate impacts represent?

Table 3.4 provides a template for your risk assessment. Populate column (f) with the long list of threats from column (f) of Table 3.2, then work through the remaining steps. Make sure you include the risks identified from your assessment of the current climate as well as for the projected future changes.

Think about the likelihood of each threat occurring, and how great the consequences would be for your organisation.

  • For each threat, assign a value of 1–3 in column (i) of the likelihood of the threat (impact?) occurring, where 1 is low and 3 is high.
  • In column (j), assign a value of 1–3 in column (i) of the magnitude of the threat (impact?) occurring, where 1 is low and 3 is high.

Note the separate sets of columns for current and future climate threats – this will help you to see the scale of changes compared to today’s climate.

Enter the values into your table.

If you have many threats to evaluate, consider mapping only those with high consequences as a first round of your assessment. Make sure you record this decision so that potential risks are not lost – some low-level threats may have greater consequences in future as circumstances change.

Determine the risk by multiplying the likelihood of impact by the magnitude of consequence for each impact. Enter this value into the ‘Risk’ columns of your table.

Sort the table by the Risk column, or plot the risks into a “heat map” to visualise your priority climate risks. You may find it useful to plot the likelihood and magnitude of each threat into a risk matrix (see the Risk matrix sheet of the spreadsheet) to decide where on the heat map a threat should sit.

You must make a note of the thinking behind your risk ratings and any assumptions you make so the work can be continually reviewed. You must also explain where your risk ratings assume that some incremental adaptations will take place. Don’t assume that your organisation will adapt in time – effective adaptation will only happen if you make a thorough risk assessment.

Note that your risk assessment will be influenced by your ‘risk attitude’, or how much climate risk you are prepared to tolerate. You should make a note of this for future reference.

If possible, estimate the costs of particular impacts by examining what you know about the costs of past events. This could be useful later in the process.

If there are risks you need a better understanding of, make a plan to find out more about them.

3.5: Will climate risks be more or less important than others?

Draw up a list or table of the non-climate risks affecting your organisation.

Complete another copy of Table 3.4 with your non-climate risks, using the same process as Task 3.4. The result will be a rank-ordered list or heat map of risks which you can compare with your climate risks.

Make a note of your confidence in your findings along, with details of any uncertainties you have identified.

3.6: What are the priority risks that require a response?

Identify the most significant risks from the matrix developed in Step 3.4.

Sort your risk matrix using the risk column, or draw a line across a heat map. Those that fall into the top right region of your heat map will be of greater priority than those in the lower left region.

Proceed to Step 4 to identify, evaluate and implement adaptation options to address your priority risks that require an adaptation response.

3.7: If you need further information:

Analyse your future climate risks in detail by conducting further work within your organisation or in collaboration with external consultants.

Remember to think about non-climate risks that your organisation faces, so you can take a balanced approach to managing climate and non-climate risks.

Commission experts, or appoint internal staff, to determine how much climate impacts could cost.

UKCIP’s costings methodology can be used to convert significant risks – and opportunities – into financial costs. Both technical and relatively simple versions of the methodology are available. The Simplified costings methodology may help you to cost your main climate risks.

If neither tool is appropriate, estimate the costs yourself, based on previous experience. This could include costs incurred through replacing or repairing damaged equipment, or from lost business. For example, flooding of the BMW plant in Cowley, Oxford, in 2005 resulted in 50 fewer cars being produced, which represented tens of thousands of pounds of lost turnover.

The London (pdf, 3.4 MB) and West Midlands (pdf, 7 MB) scoping studies both used the costing guidelines to develop case study costs. The reports estimate the costs of climate change adaptation and give ball-park figures for some key sectors.

The results of this exercise will be shaped by your own experiences and knowledge. Don’t forget to work in partnership with colleagues to ensure you have as complete a picture as possible of the impacts, threats and opportunities posed by changing climatic conditions.

Make an explicit note of the assumptions and judgements made in your assessment, the source of the information you have used, and the confidence that you place in it.

  • Measuring Progress (pdf, 1.6 MB) provides an overview of results from studies conducted in the first seven years of UKCIP.
  • LWEC Policy and Practice Notes present accessible key findings from LWEC-funded research and are tailored to specific audiences.
  • Alongside climate change scenarios, you should use socio-economic scenarios to develop your understanding of how these other risks may alter in the future (pdf, 670 KB). Also consider existing trends that might affect your operations, e.g. in the product or labour market, or changing technologies.
  • UK Resilience, a service of the Cabinet Office, has a wealth of information on risk assessment on its website.
  • UKCIP’s Costings methodology can be used to convert significant risks – and opportunities – into financial costs. Technical and relatively simple versions of the methodology are available, depending on the importance of this information to your decision-making. The London (pdf, 3.4 MB) and West Midlands (pdf, 7 MB) scoping studies both used the costing guidelines to develop outline costs for their case studies.