Risk screening methods for extreme heat: Implications for equity-oriented adaptation

Lynée L. Turek-Hankins, Miyuki Hino, Katharine J. Mach
Posted on: 12/20/2020 - Updated on: 8/23/2022

Posted by

Kathryn Braddock



Morbidity and mortality impacts of extreme heat amplified by climate change will be unequally distributed among communities given pre-existing differences in socioeconomic, health, and environmental conditions. Many governments are interested in adaptation policies that target those especially vulnerable to the risks, but there are important questions about how to effectively identify and support communities most in need of heat adaptations. Here, we use an equity-oriented adaptation program from the state of California as a case study to evaluate the implications of the currently used environmental justice index (CalEnviroScreen 3.0) for the identification of socially vulnerable communities with climate change adaptation needs. As CalEnviroScreen is geared towards air and water pollution, we assess how community heat risks and adaptation needs would be evaluated differently under two more adaptation-relevant vulnerability indices: the Social Vulnerability Index and the Heat-Health Action Index. Our analysis considers communities at the census tract scale, as well as the patterns emerging at the regional scale. Using the current index, the state designates 25% of its census tracts as “disadvantaged” communities eligible for special adaptation funds. However, an additional 12.6% of the state’s communities could be considered vulnerable if the two other indices were considered instead. Only 13.4% of communities are vulnerable across all three vulnerability indices studied. Choice of vulnerability index shapes statewide trends in extreme heat risk and is linked to a community’s likelihood of receiving heat-related California Climate Investments (CCI) projects. Tracts that are vulnerable under the current pollution-focused index, but not under the heat-health specific index, received four times the number of heat-related interventions as tracts vulnerable under the reverse scenario. This study demonstrates important nuances relevant to implementing equity-oriented adaptation and explores the challenges, trade-offs, and opportunities in quantifying vulnerability.