How will urban and socio-economic development influence our future vulnerability to climate change risks?

The new article by Alexandra Jurgilevich, Aleksi Räsänen and Sirkku Juhola explores urban futures and analyzes future vulnerability of urban population, using Helsinki as an example. To do that, the authors develop a novel approach that uses expert opinion and integrates participatory mapping with locally developed socio-economic scenarios to map vulnerability changes up to 2050.

Future risk and vulnerability assessments have become common; however, there is a multitude of challenges associated with assessing future vulnerability, as well as conceptual and methodological gaps that need to be addressed. The article “Assessing the dynamics of urban vulnerability to climate change: Case of Helsinki, Finland”, published in Environmental Science and Policy, takes up an approach different from traditionally used quantitative methods to assess future risks and vulnerabilities. The authors develop a novel mixed methods approach that integrates participatory mapping with scenario work. The study treats vulnerability dynamics as a process rather than a state in the future, and reconstructs vulnerability development pathways. In addition to enhancing the conceptual understanding of vulnerability, its formation, drivers and their interactions, this approach provides insights for the policy and decision-makers with regards to current planning as well as for possible adjustments in adaptation and city development.

In the case city, Helsinki, according to the analysis of experts’ mapped responses together with the scenario narratives, the main driver of vulnerability in the Negative scenario (dealing with economic decline and dispersed city structure) is related to the economic decline. It has direct and indirect effects on both city’s capacity to upkeep infrastructure, residential stock and sustainable urban planning, as well on citizens’ capacity to prepare, respond and recover from the climate change related events. In the case of a Balanced scenario (balanced economic and population growth, and balanced growth of the region/multi-centered city structure), the main drivers of vulnerability are related to the densification and development of new areas at the cost of green space, highlighting the need for sustainable and climate-proof urban planning. In the Fast scenario (fast economic and population growth and dense mono-centered city structure), the drivers are similar to the Balanced scenario, namely densification at the cost of green areas. However, this scenario shows economic growth and prioritizes sustainable and climate-proof planning, thus overall reducing citizens’ vulnerability.

The detailed description of the methodology, results and maps of changes in vulnerability indicators are available here, and critical appraisal of the study and approach from the perspective of contribution to science and policy can be accessed via this link.