Alex Cameron-Smith is a Climate Resilience Manager at Sniffer. She specialises in collaborative project delivery, establishing beneficial partnerships, and people-focused engagement to amplify voices and leverage change. Contact Alex for more information [email protected]

Planning adaptation to climate change is like trying to score in a football match when the goalposts keep moving and the game never ends - there is no “final adapted state”. It takes a long time for the most recent climate science to be integrated into the policy and guidance that we rely on to make decisions and manage risks. 

Many risks interact with and influence other risks. Responding reactively to these can worsen inequalities and cause reputational damage for those who are in charge of responding. The increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather has revealed that there is not a lot of extra capacity in services we rely on such as transport and infrastructure. To adapt effectively, we must think about risk in a systemic way. 

The Adaptation Capability Framework identifies four capabilities needed for an organisation’s adaptation journey. Although designed for the public sector, the process and learnings from using the framework can be beneficial for all. Conducting Climate Change Risk and Vulnerability Assessments (RVAs) is a key part of the “Understanding the Challenge” capability, because measuring risk and vulnerability are vital for understanding the potential impacts of climate change on your organisation. RVAs help you and your team to identify and access relevant sources of evidence, and this data gives you agency to act. 

Before you start, find out if any RVAs have already been done within your organisation – this will give you an honest picture of your “baseline”. An essential part of this involves understanding your organisational structure and who makes the decisions at different levels. 


Learn from others 

It can also help to look at similar organisations in your sector(s) who have already completed RVAs and use a step-by-step approach to avoid overwhelm. Below are some case studies of dynamic and innovative ways of tackling climate risk assessments. 

Network Rail designed asset and climate hazard hierarchies which allowed them to see clearly how hazards could affect their assets. They mapped out risk descriptions alongside current control measures, then scored each risk on likelihood and impact in both the short and long term. Network Rail are now exploring wider networks of risk interdependencies, for example how to maintain reliable connections to other transportation under a range of conditions. 

Aberdeen City Council first created Local Climate Impact Profiles (LCLIPs) in 2014 to assess the impacts of extreme weather on Council services. This process involved discussions with the service teams and wider stakeholders, which revealed that almost all participants had already seen local climate impacts. They set up a specific climate risk task team who are now working to embed climate risks into their wider corporate risk register. 

Adaptation Scotland used participatory mapping tools to gather knowledge from communities in North Uist to create a visualisation of climate hazards and impacts, and to identify sites of local importance. This co-created community map was overlaid on other maps to increase understanding about lived experience of climate change, and which climate risks are interacting now and could “cascade” in the future. The Highland Adapts programme is also adopting a bottom-up approach through wider stakeholder engagement and connecting those doing place-based planning work. They are committed to actively instilling confidence that everyone can participate in and contribute to building local resilience. 


People are your assets  

Embedding various perspectives in risk assessments can help identify previously unknown root causes of multiple risks, because different groups experience climate risk differently. Getting everyone’s input is an investment – it usually requires repeated and flexible engagement sessions, and upskilling staff as needed so they can participate equally. Creating a truly inclusive and safe space where people feel they can be heard and their opinions valued may yield some unexpected answers and challenging insights, but also new ideas and solutions. 

Engagement by itself is not enough – you'll need to think about how you use the results from the process to drive action. For example, you could build a team of employees who work at different organisational levels to be your “champions” to help get risk assessment data integrated into strategic planning. Other groups, such as frontline workers, are often the receptors of climate impacts and it is crucial to create opportunity to gather this insight.  

Transforming organisational culture and leadership requires creative thinking at every stage, from deciding the scope of your risk assessment and building your evidence base, right through to how you include different voices, present information and call people to action. 

Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another.

Angela Duckworth, Grit 

Tools & resources  

The tools and resources above have been designed for a range of different sectors and organisations, but if you need more tailored support please contact [email protected].