Climate Change Adaption Toolkit - Introduction

In 2011, the City of Greater Geelong released its Climate Change Adaptation Strategy and Roadmap to respond to the impacts of climate change.

Purpose of this Toolkit

In 2011, the City of Greater Geelong released its Climate Change Adaptation Strategy and Roadmap to respond to the impacts of climate change. It was recognised that traditional decision-making tools are designed to cope with a limited range of scenarios and linear problems – making them less effective in planning for climate change. The Climate Change Adaptation Toolkit has been developed to facilitate robust decision-making processes and to integrate climate change adaptation across the organisation.

The Toolkit aims to support organisations to:
  • integrate adaptation and support effective and efficient risk management
  • be more responsive to climate change shocks and trends
  • maintain standards of service delivery in the face of more extreme conditions
  • make effective and consistent decisions regarding climate change
  • form linkages across different work areas, internally and externally
  • incorporate uncertainty into decision making
    • make adaptation decisions that work across a range of future scenarios
    • build flexibility into adaptation actions.

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Who should use it

Tools 1 and 2 support the development and refining of an adaptation strategy, by exploring risk context, and developing adaptation actions that remain viable under the widest range of probable climate futures.

Tool 3 complements existing decision-making processes by providing a methodology for incorporating climate change issues into the planning and design of initiatives.

Each tool can be used in isolation and the Toolkit is free for download and use under a creative commons licence (attribution and non-commercial use).

The Toolkit was developed with the City of Greater Geelong for use by local Council and as a result includes examples relating specifically to a local Council context. However, aspects of the Toolkit will be applicable to a wider range of organisations and sectors, and each of the included tools can readily be adapted to specific local and organisational contexts.

The examples used throughout this user guide are for illustrative purposes only and should not be considered concrete guidance that can be adopted.

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Assumed preparatory work

The Toolkit assumes your organisation has already undertaken some form of a climate change risk assessment.The most utilised risk framework used by local governments in Australia is the guide developed by the Department of the Environment and Heritage, Australian Greenhouse Office (AGO) in 2006. The guide helps local government integrate climate change impacts into risk management and other strategic planning activities. The guide is aligned with the Australian and New Zealand Standard / International Standards Organisation ISO 31000:2009 Risk Management Principles and Guidelines (formerly AS/NZS 4360).

The common steps in a risk-based assessment are:
  1. Establish the risk context
  2. Identify and describe the risk
  3. Analyse the risk
  4. Evaluate the risk
  5. Decide on the treatment.

The risk assessment process using the ISO 31000 methodology will produce a list of risks that have been prioritised based on a risk matrix using likelihood and consequence criteria. The criteria should specify ‘priority risks’, that is, those considered most important and/or pressing. The priority risks identified through a risk assessment process can serve as inputs for the Toolkit process, including taking the risks through a more detailed risk exploration process. It is beyond the scope of this document to provide guidance on what should constitute a ‘priority risk’, however it is important to note that established risk assessment criteria such as likelihood and consequence may be of limited utility. Experts now suggest using more tangible risk factors such as:
  • Extent of damage: Adverse effects in natural units, e.g. death, injury, production loss, etc.
  • Probability of occurrence: Estimate of relative frequency, which can be discrete or continuous
  • Incertitude: Level of uncertainty in knowledge, in modelling of complex systems or in predictability in assessing a risk
  • Persistence: Duration of expected damage
  • Reversibility of expected damage
  • Broader social impact: Inequity and injustice associated with the distribution of risks and benefits over time, space and social status
  • Psychological stress and discomfort associated with the risk or the risk source (as measured by psychometric scales)
  • Spill-over effects that are likely to be expected when highly symbolic losses have repercussions on other fields such as financial markets or loss of credibility in management institutions.

AGO, 2006, Climate Change Impacts and Risk Management, A Guide for Business and Government, accessed 14/08/12.
Extracted from Renn, O. Klinke, A. and van Asselt, M. 2011 ‘Coping with Complexity, Uncertainty and Ambiguity in Risk Governance: A Synthesis’ 40(2) Ambio, 231.

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Document overview

The Toolkit comprises three tools:
  1. Exploring the Risk Context
  2. Developing Adaptation Actions
  3. Screening for Climate Change Interactions
The use of each tool is described in detail in separate chapters of this document and summarised below. The worksheets are included as appendices in this document and can also be downloaded as a standalone document. It is recommended that users read this document in conjunction with the use of the tools.

The relationship between the three tools is illustrated in Figure 5 on page 7.

Tool 1: Exploring the Risk Context

Tool 1 aims to explore previously identified priority risks in more detail by placing them in their broader social, economic and environmental context and appreciate how uncertainty associated with changes to the broader context impacts our understanding of the risk. Tool 1 is illustrated in Figure 1 below.

Flowchart visualising activities 1,2 and 3 of Tool 1 and the relationship between each one
Figure 1 : Tool 1 overview

Tool 1 includes three activities:
  • Activity 1: Detailed Risk Analysis – includes a worksheet with a list of questions to investigate the characteristics of a prioritised climate change risk. Its outputs provide detail and content for the development of a problem statement.
  • Activity 2: Uncertainty Overlay – provides a process for exploring the type of uncertainty associated with the priority risk and the implications of this uncertainty on future work that may be required.
  • Activity 3: Problem Statement – a succinct statement outlining the risk by summarising the main aspects of the risk and the risk context. Only key information should be included in the Problem Statement. The preceding activities provide the necessary inputs into the development of the Problem Statement.

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Tool 2: Developing Adaptation Action

Tool 2 includes a process for identifying, exploring and evaluating adaptation options, illustrated in Figure 2 below.

Flowchart visualising activities 1,2 and 3 of Tool 2 and the relationship between each one
Figure 2 : Tool 2 overview
The picture is a flow diagram that visualises how activities 1, 2, 3 and 4 of Tool 2 relate to each other. This detail is also outlined in the text below the diagram.

Tool 2 includes four activities:
  • Activity 1: Brainstorming Adaptation Actions – priority risks that have been passed through Tool 1 may require the development of an appropriate adaptation action. Activity 1 provides guidance for brainstorming potential adaptation actions.
  • Activity 2: Exploring an Adaptation Action – includes a worksheet for exploring in more detail a proposed adaptation action. For example, it prompts the user to consider assumptions, any likely barriers, known costs, benefits, and drivers for implementation.
  • Activity 3: Evaluating an Adaptation Action – once an adaptation action has been explored in more detail, an evaluation is required that identifies whether the adaptation action is worth implementing, requires further work or redesign or should be deferred for future implementation.
  • Activity 4: Prioritising Adaptation Actions – includes a worksheet for documenting and prioritising potential adaptation actions and their priorities for implementation. The worksheet may provide the starting point for an adaptation action register.
When implemented in sequence, Tools 1 and 2 provide a seamless process for developing adaptation actions based on identified priority risks. The relationship between Tool 1 and Tool 2 is illustrated in Figure 3 below.

Flowchart visualising how tool 1 and tool 2 relate to each one
Figure 3 : Relationship between Tools 1 and 2
The picture is a flow diagram that visualises how Tool 1 and Tool 2 relate to each other. This detail is also outlined in the text below the diagram.

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Tool 3: Screening for Climate Change Interactions

Tool 3 outlines a process for ensuring sources of climate change risk and consequent adaptation actions are considered during development and approval of new projects, proposals and administrative processes, and in risk management.

Tool 3 should be considered for incorporation within existing decision-making processes. Tool 3 is illustrated in Figure 4 below.

Flowchart visualising how stages 1, 2 and 3 relate to each one
Figure 4 : Tool 3 overview
The picture is a flow diagram that visualises how stage 1, 2 and 3 of Tool 3 relate to each other. This detail is also outlined in the text below the diagram.

Tool 3 includes three key stages:
  • Stage 1: Preliminary Screening for Climate Change Interactions – provides a prompt for decision makers to understand whether a detailed review of potential climate change interactions is required. If a detailed review is required, the user will continue the review process in Stage 2. If no climate change interactions can be identified, the user may opt out of the remaining stages of Tool 3.
  • Stage 2: Detailed Review of Interactions with Climate Change Risks, Vulnerabilities and Adaptation Actions provides a process for gaining a deeper understanding of how a new project or process will interact with climate change risks or adaptation actions. The review should enable the user to define the class of interaction as:
    • Decision Tree A) Generates a new risk or vulnerability
    • Decision Tree B) Increases vulnerability to an existing climate change risk
    • Decision Tree C) Decreases vulnerability to an existing climate change risk
    • Decision Tree D) Interacts with an existing or planned adaptation action.
    • No interaction found.

  • Stage 3: Determining Class of Interaction and Required Action –includes working through a decision tree associated with each of the interaction classes identified in Stage 2. The decision trees lead users to a number of possible actions that ensure climate change issues have consciously been considered as part of s for new projects and processes.

Flowchart showing how all three tools work together
Click to Enlarge Image

Figure 5: The relationship between all three tools.
The picture is a flow diagram that visualises how all three tools work together. To start the process you must have priority climate change risks. Then Tool 1 prompts you to explore the risk content in more detail.

Tool 2 then provides a process to develop adaptation actions, based on the information gathered through Tool 1. Then the developed adaptation actions and any organisation proposals are a starting point to use Tool 3.

Tool 3 assists you to consider the interaction the organisation proposal or adaptation action may have with climate change risks, vulnerability and other adaptation actions. The end of the process decisions can then be made, which include climate change considerations. Any decisions that influence a climate change risk or adaptation action must be included in updated risk and action documentation.

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Glossary of terms

This glossary’s main purpose is to clarify how key terms are used throughout the Toolkit. Please note that these definitions may not correspond with the usage of these terms in your organisational context, in government documents, or in the academic literature.

Adaptation action An action designed to respond to an identified priority climate change risk. An adaptation action could be to build a sea wall in response to sea level rise, or waiting to make a decision on an infrastructure investment until there is more information as to the risk of bushfire risk in a certain area.
Adaptive capacity The ability of a system or its parts to adjust to climate variability and change by undertaking action to reduce adverse impacts, moderate harm, or exploit beneficial opportunities.
Climate change risk A perceived or actual risk resulting from climate change that can affect natural and human systems.
Climate change risk register A central repository for all climate-related risks identified by an organisation. The register usually includes information such as likelihood of risk, impact, mitigation measures planned or proposed, and the risk owner. Many organisations have some form of risk register, and climate change risks are increasingly incorporated into these.
Refers to a system or its parts being subject to experiencing stressors, such as changing rainfall patterns, increasing average temperatures, and changes in the frequency of extreme weather events.
Interaction classes A term used in this Toolkit to define the nature of an interaction with a climate change risk and/or adaptation action. The interaction classes are:
  • Generates a new risk or vulnerability
  • Increases vulnerability to an existing climate change risk
  • Decreases vulnerability to an existing climate change risk
  • Interacts with an existing or planned adaptation action.
  • No interaction found
Maladaptation A change in natural or human systems that leads to an increase rather than a decrease in vulnerability.
Priority climate change risk A risk that an organisation has identified as threatening the organisation’s assets, service provision or operations
Priority action An adaptation action that has been prioritised for implementation, corresponding to one or several climate change risks.
Problem statement A succinct account of a climate change risk, summarising the main elements of the risk and the risk context. Only key information should be included.
Proposal A project, process, investment or action that an organisation plans to make or implement.
Register of adaptation actions A list of identified adaptation actions that is kept on file. It includes actions that are to be implemented and those that have been deferred. Activity 2 of Tool 2 provides the basis for developing a register of adaptation actions.
Resilience The ability of a system or its parts to absorb disturbances while retaining the same basic structure and ways of functioning, the capacity for self-organisation, and the ability to adapt to stress and change.
Risk assessment A risk management procedure, which investigates the characteristics of potential risks to inform actions that may be required to manage or reduce a risk to an organisation. In this document, risk assessment refers to the process outlined by the ISO 31000 standard, which contains guidelines and principles for assessing risk based on likelihood and consequences. There are many elements to risk and hence many other ways for approaching a risk assessment.
Risk management system Structures and frameworks in place within an organisation to effectively identify, prioritise, mitigate and monitor risks facing the organisation. A risk management system is likely to consist of a risk register, governance arrangements and reporting requirements, among other things.
Scenarios A plausible and often simplified description of how the future may develop based on a coherent and internally consistent set of assumptions about driving forces and key relationships.
Sensitivity The degree to which a system or its parts are affected, either adversely or beneficially, by climate variability or climate change. The effect may be direct (e.g., a change in crop yield in response to a change in mean temperature) or indirect (e.g., damages caused by an increase in the frequency of coastal flooding due to sea level rise).
Vulnerability The degree to which a natural or human system is susceptible to external shocks or gradual trends and their interaction with other social, environmental or economic stressors. Vulnerability is a function of exposure, sensitivity and the adaptive capacity of the system. Climate change vulnerability refers to susceptibility to impacts resulting from climate change.

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Page last updated: Tuesday, 3 April 2018