Assess Vulnerability to Climate Change

Climate change impact assessment and planning for vulnerability can play an important part of every land trust’s efforts to address climate change impacts and provide perpetual stewardship. Vulnerability assessments help identify the resources and/or conservation priorities that are most threatened by climate change. This allows land trusts to prioritize conservation actions, and guides future management decisions. Land trusts may choose to undertake a vulnerability assessment as part of a larger scenario planning exercise.

Prepare for Vulnerability

Planning for vulnerability to climate change generally involves three steps:

1. Determine which resources are vulnerable to changing conditions. By identifying the most vulnerable resources, we are able to prioritize our conservation actions. The vulnerability of a resource is determined by exposure, sensitivity, and the ability to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Note: Responses to climate change may vary with the actual amount of change being considered. For example, some plants or animals may respond positively to a small increase in temperature, but will then respond negatively as temperatures increase further.

2. Determine why those resources are vulnerable. It is not enough to know that a particular resource is vulnerable. We also must know why the resource is vulnerable. This allows us to choose conservation actions that are most likely to reduce the threats posed by climate change.

3. Use this information to guide conservation actions that will reduce vulnerability.

How Can We Reduce Vulnerability to Climate Change?

Vulnerability assessments are a key step in adaptation planning by enabling managers to:

  • Identify those species and systems most likely to be in need of conservation actions as a result of climate change.
  • Develop strategic adaptation strategies tailored for managing species and habitats in greatest need.
  • Foster collaboration at statewide and regional scales by providing a shared understanding of impacts and management options.
  • Allow scarce resources for wildlife conservation to be allocated efficiently in the face of climate change.

It is useful to think of climate change adaptation as a process, not an outcome. As such, planning for vulnerability to climate change is similar to planning for the vulnerability of resources to other threats, such as urban development or water pollution. As we learn more about predicted climate change impacts, land trusts will be able to anticipate and plan for these impacts. For example, in order to protect cold-water fish, a land trust may look to remove barriers that currently prevent upstream migration, thus allowing those fish to reach cooler waters.

National and Regional Efforts to Assess Vulnerability

Efforts to assess the vulnerability of species and natural areas to climate change are increasing, and this is rapidly becoming an area of major focus for many federal and state agencies, universities and NGOs. Land trusts can partner with organizations already engaged in this work to increase efficacy of planning efforts. Many resources are available, such as:

Additional resources are also available through the Land Trust Alliance’s The Learning Center (login required).