To reduce the potential risks of climate change, we must increase communities’ ability to adapt to climate change and recover from climate-change-related disruptions. Some communities are better positioned to adjust and recover than others. Historic disinvestment has caused low-income Black, Brown, Indigenous, and other marginalized communities to experience disproportionate climate impacts and limits climate adaptation ability.

Inequities stemming from institutionalized racism, environmental pollution, underinvestment, and exclusion from services and opportunities have made non-white communities with low incomes more likely to have substandard living conditions and chronic health or mental illnesses. These factors not only increase a community’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change but also reduce their ability to adapt.

For guidance on identifying communities that are vulnerable to climate change using the Integrated Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Program (ICARP)’s definition of the term, “vulnerable communities,” see the section “What is a Vulnerable Community?” below.

The Vulnerable Communities Platform

As climate change has disparate impacts in different communities, ICARP is charged with advancing climate equity across the State’s climate adaptation and resilience efforts. Understanding climate vulnerability is key to equitable climate adaptation. However, currently, no tool holistically displays all the data one would need to understand who is most vulnerable to climate change in California. Most tools focus on a limited number of drivers specific to one topic, do not detail future climate impacts, or do not provide statewide data.

Guided by feedback from environmental justice and equity organizations, the ICARP Climate Services team is developing a Vulnerable Communities Platform to assist community practitioners, government staff, and others in understanding and visualizing the factors that drive future climate vulnerability so they can make informed adaptation planning, policy, and investment decisions. The Platform uses the ICARP definition of the term, “vulnerable communities,” below.

The Vulnerable Communities Platform will aggregate existing external climate-vulnerability tools and datasets in a single, easy-to-use interface. It will also connect users to other tools and resources from the ICARP Climate Services team, such as the Adaptation Clearinghouse, Cal-Adapt, and technical assistance.

The ICARP Climate Services team recognizes the value of vulnerable communities’ expertise on how to identify and represent themselves. A collaborative and user-informed development process will inform the Platform’s quantitative data, which qualitative data on communities’ lived experiences will support.

The Vulnerable Communities Platform will be especially useful to those seeking funding from ICARP, the California Strategic Growth Council, and other State entities that prioritize vulnerable communities for funding. It will also be valuable to State agencies that seek to prioritize vulnerable communities in program design.

Check out the Vulnerable Communities Platform fact sheet for details on the four main features the Climate Services team proposes for the Platform based on feedback from communities across the state. We plan to release the final version of the Platform in 2024. 

Help Shape the Vulnerable Communities Platform

Help shape this important tool by filling out the Vulnerable Communities Platform Interest Form or contacting us, the Climate Services team, directly. There are currently four ways to get involved:

  1. Keep me updated!
    Fill out the form up to question 8 to sign up for our e-list so you’ll receive future updates.
  2. I have thoughts!
    Fill out the form up to questions 9-11 to provide specific feedback.
  3. I want the Vulnerable Communities Platform team to present to my group or organization!
    Email if you would like the Vulnerable Communities Platform team to present to your organization or group and gather your feedback.
  4. I want to test the Vulnerable Communities Platform in my community!
    Email to recommend a community and partner organization for a no-cost community workshop assessing climate resilience. During these workshops, we will gather information from community members about unique community experiences with climate change. We will also work with the organization to offer guidance and resources to support the resilience-building actions the community wants to take.

What is a Vulnerable Community?

In 2018, the ICARP Technical Advisory Council defined the term “vulnerable communities” to clarify the many factors that affect communities’ climate adaptation and resilience and to help inform State climate adaptation efforts. To learn more about the Council’s vision for a resilient California and seven principles for achieving resilience, explore the ICARP Council Vision and Principles page.

ICARP Definition of the term "Vulnerable Communities"

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

To help climate adaptation practitioners identify climate vulnerable communities and define the term, ICARP staff developed a resource guide with input from the Technical Advisory Council. The guide includes:

  • The ICARP Technical Advisory Council’s definition of vulnerable communities
  • A summary of statewide tools available as of July 2018 for identifying which communities are most vulnerable to climate change, including a crosswalk with indicators that are required components of an SB1000 analysis
  • Additional indicators for assessing underlying vulnerability on a case-by-case basis
  • A list of process guides useful for selecting and prioritizing vulnerability indicators

For More Information

Ben McMahan
Ben McMahan is the ICARP Climate Services Program Manager, where he oversees ICARP's Science Advisory Group and development of the Vulnerable Communities Platform, Cal-Adapt, and other climate services.