Assessing climate vulnerability and risks: challenges and first lessons from China


This brief is aimed at sharing some of the challenges and first lessons emerging from the implementation of vulnerability assessments. Key messages are:

  • Given the variety of contexts and the fact that climate change is a global phenomenon with highly differential and localized impacts, there are no standardized methods for conducting vulnerability and risk assessments. Which method is selected depends on spatial and temporal scales, resources available, data availability and accessibility and requirements of decision makers. This is well supported by the evidence emerging from the experience of the ACCC project in China.

  • Conducting comprehensive climate change vulnerability assessments requires interdisciplinary research collaboration. The process of establishing partnerships and building a common methodological research framework is challenging and adequate time should be allocated for this step. Developing a common language and agreeing on definitions of key concepts, such as risk and vulnerability, is essential to ensure effective collaboration. This should be done at the start of the research process.

  • Quantitative models of vulnerability and risk can be difficult to construct if appropriate data for indicators are missing or are of low quality. Furthermore, quantitative models are can be cumbersome to apply to simulate information on how rules, policies, culture, and social norms influence behavior and vulnerability to multiple stressors beyond climate change. These factors need to be evaluated through qualitative vulnerability assessments. Using such methods in an interdisciplinary research context in China is challenging, as most researchers are more familiar with quantitative methods.

  • Vulnerability and risk assessments become more meaningful and likely to lead to change when they are linked to real-life governance and policy processes, and to community interests. This requires researchers conducting vulnerability and risk assessments to engage with stakeholders before the assessments begin and ensure their involvement in the assessment processes.


Adapting to Climate Change in China (ACCC). Assessing climate vulnerability and risks: challenges and first lessons from China. ACCC Policy Brief, Adapting to Climate Change in China (ACCC), Beijing, China (2011) 4 pp.

Assessing climate vulnerability and risks: challenges and first lessons from China

Published 1 January 2011