RESIN Resources


Baseline Assessment for Greater Manchester

Undertaking Climate Risk Assessments

Definitions, Approaches, and Methods




The concept of risk has become increasingly prominent in frameworks that address climate change adaptation. This includes the high profile risk-based conceptual framework adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in their Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) (IPCC 2014a). 

Consequently, the RESIN project has adopted a risk-based conceptual framework (Carter et al. 2016). This current report was devised in order to enhance understanding of the analysis and assessment of risk within the RESIN project to support the application of a risk based framework within the project. 

This report looks at definitions of risk, the benefits of undertaking a risk assessment, methods of assessing risk, and related issues for the RESIN project. 

There are competing definitions of risk from across various disciplines (Section 2). However, the IPCC gives a clear steer to researchers on the elements underlying  risk in the context of climate change and their relationship to one another. These elements are hazard, exposure, and vulnerability, which interact with one another and in doing so may  result in a climate risk. 

Whilst impact assessments and vulnerability assessments are long-established in the climate change adaptation literature, both approaches can feed into and support a wider risk assessment (Section 3). Risk assessments are an important addition to climate change adaptation planning processes (as reflected by the adoption of this approach by the IPCC) for the following reasons: 

  • Impact assessments provide an indication of what might happen to natural and human systems in the event of extreme weather and climate change hazards occurring, but do not consider the probability of occurrence of hazards, potential exposure to hazards or the severity of related impacts. 
  • Vulnerability assessments determine the susceptibility to harm of ‘receptor(s)’ (e.g. people, infrastructure, economic sectors) from hazard events. However, they do not address the likelihood of an event occurring. 
  • Risk assessments consider the likelihood of hazard events occurring and the potential for a receptor to be exposed to a hazard event. They also judge the severity of the consequences (or impacts) arising from hazard events. The assessment of likelihood and consequence combines to provide an indication of risk.     

Risk assessments go beyond impact and vulnerability assessments, and bring together different elements of the adaptation agenda (including impacts and vulnerability) to provide a basis for analysing which weather and climate risks are most pressing.

Risk assessment methods can be qualitative or quantitative. The approach used will have a bearing on the communication of risk beyond the assessment particularly when devising options to manage risk (Section 4). Other key methodological issues are:

  • Whether to analyse multiple risks or single risks;
  • The extent to which scenarios are used within the risk assessment;
  • The level of data and detail required in order to make decisions.

A review of previous projects that employed a risk assessment approach indicated that few focus on dependencies between systems and assets by concentrating mainly on individual sectors (Section 5). RESIN’s added value may therefore come from the analysis critical infrastructure dependencies under a changing climate. 

The main issues for the remainder of the RESIN project include incorporating an  understanding of risk and risk assessment into the design of the IVAVIA tool/system as part of Work Package 2 as well as maintain conceptual coherency and consistency throughout the project regarding this topic (see Section 7).