Reducing risks from climate change requires increasing the resilience of communities and people to withstand and recover from climate-related disruptions, and to learn and adapt in the face of this change. However, some communities are better positioned to respond, recover, and adjust as these changes occur, while others are more vulnerable and experience disproportionate impacts – particularly low income black, brown, and Tribal communities.

Factors that contribute to vulnerability include existing inequities, institutionalized racism, and exclusion; poor environmental conditions, lack of access to services, and poor living conditions; existing conditions such as chronic health or mental illnesses; and a lack of investment and opportunities. All of these factors contribute to a person or community’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and ability to adapt.

Recognizing the disparate impacts of climate change, ICARP is charged with advancing climate equity across the state’s climate adaptation and resilience efforts. Communities on the frontlines of climate change remind us that climate adaptation efforts should not simply help people “bounce back” after disasters, but to “bounce forward”. We therefore work with a wide array of stakeholders to ensure that our most vulnerable communities are more resilient in the face of climate change, to ensure all Californians thrive.

Learn more about climate equity, adaptation, and resilience by exploring information and resources on the Adaptation Clearinghouse Climate Equity page.

Defining Vulnerable Communities

In 2017, the ICARP Technical Advisory Council (TAC) developed a vision statement [link to TAC general page] that expresses the characteristics of a resilient California, as well as principles that guide how adaptation actions should be implemented to achieve this vision. The Council adopted the Vision and Principles at the September 2017 meeting with the condition that the Council define “vulnerable communities”, a term that is referenced throughout the Vision and Principles. Following a series of workgroup meetings, a definition was adopted in April of 2018.

While the Council’s definition of “vulnerable communities” provides clarity on the underlying factors of community vulnerability, and how these are exacerbated by climate impacts, a definition alone may not provide the level of detail needed to take actionable steps within the context of climate adaptation plans and implementation actions.

ICARP Technical Advisory Council’s Adopted Definition

Climate vulnerability describes the degree to which natural, built, and human systems are at risk of exposure to climate change impacts. Vulnerable communities experience heightened risk and increased sensitivity to climate change and have less capacity and fewer resources to cope with, adapt to, or recover from climate impacts. These disproportionate effects are caused by physical (built and environmental), social, political, and/ or economic factor(s), which are exacerbated by climate impacts. These factors include, but are not limited to, race, class, sexual orientation and identification, national origin, and income inequality. end definition

OPR, with input from the ICARP Technical Advisory Council, developed this resource guide as a starting point for practitioners to use when first considering how to define vulnerable communities in an adaptation context.

The Document Includes:

  • The ICARP Technical Advisory Council’s definition of climate-vulnerable communities
  • A summary of existing statewide assessment tools that can be used to identify vulnerable communities in a climate adaptation context, including a crosswalk with the indicators that are required elements of an SB1000 analysis
  • Additional indicators that could be used to assess underlying vulnerability on a case-by-case basis
  • A list of process guides that can serve to aid agencies undertaking efforts to define vulnerable communities

Vulnerable Communities Platform

Guided by the ICARP TAC definition and strong research and advocacy from a host of environmental justice and equity organizations, OPR is currently developing a Vulnerable Communities platform in partnership with a wide range of stakeholders focused on frontline communities. This platform will serve as an open, accessible, and community-grounded resource to deliver information and data to help decisionmakers understand and visualize underlying factors that drive vulnerability and future risk to climate impacts.

As a new, integrated resource, the Vulnerable Communities platform will draw on existing tools and datasets, while ensuring the information offered is grounded in community lived experiences through a collaborative stakeholder and development process. Ultimately, the Vulnerable Communities platform aims to provide a user-friendly, accessible platform and cross-sector partnerships to address climate adaptation and resilience needs across California. Additional information on the Vulnerable Communities Platform and how to engage in the development of this new resource will be coming soon!

For More Information

Nikki Caravelli
As Associate Planner specializing in Climate Resilience at OPR, Nikki manages the State Adaptation Clearinghouse and supports climate services and technical assistance under OPR’s Integrated Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Program (ICARP).