Spatial Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments: A Review of Data, Methods, and Issues
Alex de Sherbinin
This technical report was written to inform the work of USAID and its development partners about spatial vulnerability assessments and allied methods such as spatial impact assessments. Currently, the demand for vulnerability maps is increasing within development agencies as emphasis is placed on scientifically sound methods for targeting adaptation assistance. The report reviews current practices in vulnerability mapping at various spatial scales, multiple sectors, and systems. The geographic focus of this report is Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
There are many reasons to develop vulnerability maps including the tracking of climate variability and extremes, sensitivity of populations, and systems to climate stressors, as well as adaptive or coping capacities that vary per region. These maps have proven to be useful in multi-stakeholder discussions to provide common basis for discussion about adaptation planning. Maps also have shortcomings; for example, a map can provide information on where, but not always what or how.
Key recommendations include clearly documenting data and methods used in spatial vulnerability assessments, and always including information about methodologies, uncertainties, and assumptions about a map as part of the vulnerability mapping report. Finally, as part of the report’s annexes section, it is recommended to include detailed information about each map layer to ensure transparency and replicability.
Excerpt from the report:
The field of spatial VA and impact assessment is expanding rapidly. There are evolving standards for conducting spatial VAs, though the field is still characterized by experimentation. A number of these practices have been described in this review (along with critiques), and recommendations have been included throughout the text. These final recommendations to USAID and its development partners are borne out of several years of experience in the development of vulnerability maps for different clients and purposes, multiple capacity building workshops in spatial assessment methods, and interactions with end users. They also build on recommendations developed by Preston et al. (2011: 179).
- State the goals and objectives of a spatial VA or impact assessment up front.
- Identify the system of analysis, the valued attributes of concern, the external hazard, and a temporal reference.
- Adhere to general and sectoral vulnerability assessment guidelines.
- Choose a conceptual framework and specify it in any reports.
- Choose a method appropriate to the goals and target sector/system/group of concern.
- Carefully evaluate data layers.
- Where spatial indices are created, test the results using different aggregation methods.
- Document all data, methods, and assumptions.
- Map uncertainty levels wherever possible.
- Invest in map design and communications.
- Work directly with end users to improve understanding of the results.
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