Literature Review: Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment, Risk Assessment, and Adaptation Approaches

Posted on: 1/28/2019 - Updated on: 2/28/2020

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Incorporation of climate change impacts into transportation decisions is still a relatively new concept. As decision makers in various sectors grapple with information on climate change effects and how they may or may not impact their core mission(s), they are turning to existing tools and approaches for guidance. To date, three closely-related approaches are being used to help transportation decision makers consider and prepare for future climate impacts: vulnerability assessment, risk assessment, and adaptation assessment.

  • Vulnerability assessment begins with the identification of existing stressors facing transportation systems and projects how climate change will impact and/or introduce new stressors in the future. The findings of the assessment can then be ranked to assess, prioritize, and address vulnerabilities.
  • Risk assessment evaluates the likelihood and consequence of climate-related impacts on transportation and can be rooted in engineering applications. Many times this assessment will quantify the product of the probabilities of exposure and vulnerability. This assessment provides transportation policymakers with guidance based on quantitative analysis of the level of risk associated with changing climate conditions.
  • Adaptation assessment identifies, plans, prioritizes, implements, and measures transportation management options available for effectively adapting to climate change impacts. This assessment may discuss ways to reduce transportation vulnerability, increase resilience and/or highlight regions of retreat.

These approaches have been applied at varying levels of sophistication in assessing climate change impacts on human and natural systems. This document details how these approaches have been or could be used to integrate climate change impacts into transportation decisions and ultimately increase the adaptive capacity of the highway system.

Authors on CAKE

ICF International U.S. Department of Transportation