Who and where are the climate disadvantaged?

Hurricane Katrina, flooded housing estate
Our research came up with new ways of mapping areas and communities that are vulnerable to increased flooding and heatwaves, as a result of climate change.

We examined how to characterise, measure and map the different dimensions of well-being that are made insecure by flooding and heatwaves and the social, personal and environmental factors involved in the conversion of weather events into losses in well-being.

Our evidence has supported the development of climate change adaptation strategies at the national and local level.

Our research came up with new, philosophically-informed ways of mapping areas and communities that are vulnerable to increased flooding and heatwaves, as a result of climate change. Our work enabled us to help national and local authorities develop adaptation policies.

Our research team developed new ways to understand, measure and map the social vulnerability of individuals and communities to the extreme weather events that are increasing in intensity and frequency as a result of climate change.

Concentration and nature of the vulnerability

The resulting socio-spatial index of vulnerability was used to map the distribution of potential losses of well-being from climate change for both individuals and communities across the UK. Our work not only informed policymakers about the geographical concentrations of vulnerability but also revealed the specific nature of the vulnerability in different areas, for example, its age structure, income levels, community networks, health and mobility.

As such it allows the policy to be better targeted to the specific needs of different communities.

Key policy applications

  • The Adaptation Sub-Committee to the Committee on Climate Change emphasised the use of our method in its key submission to the UK Climate Change Risk Assessment.
  • Welsh Government uses the model to consider the impacts of social vulnerability.
  • Scottish Government recognised the potential of the vulnerability index leading to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) to fund a follow-on project, using additional SEPA datasets to map climate disadvantage in Scotland.
  • The Environment Agency changed its own research plans to build on our research.
  • Local authorities across the UK have used the vulnerability mapping process with their local datasets to inform local climate change adaptation strategies and planning for local services that take account of social vulnerability.

Our research

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) report on 'Climate Change, Justice and Vulnerability' (2011) built upon a body of research in philosophy at The University of Manchester that defended an ‘objective state’ approach to well-being against both preference satisfaction accounts and more recent hedonic alternatives.

The project team employed this research to develop new methods to measure and map the social vulnerability of communities to increased flooding and heatwaves caused by climate change.

Climate disadvantage is a function of the likelihood and degree of exposure to a climate hazard such as flood and heatwave, and the vulnerability of individuals to such hazards. Vulnerability is characterised by the degree to which an event is likely to convert into losses in the well-being.

Key claims include:

  • Preference satisfaction and hedonic approaches to well-being fail to capture this full range of losses in well-being.
  • Standard physical climate models fail to capture the full range of factors converting climate impacts into losses in well-being.
  • Measures of well-being must be multidimensional in order to include the full range of impacts of climate change.
  • An objective state approach provides a better basis for conceptualisation and measurement of welfare in order to map the distributional impacts of environmental changes.

Key people