Response as a part of climate risk: including adaptation into risk assessments

IPCC AR6 WGII has brought about a new approach to conceptualizing and assessing climate risks by including response.

IPCC AR6 WGII has brought about a new approach to conceptualizing and assessing climate risks by including response. The response in the report means basically two types of action: mitigation and adaptation (Simpson et al., 2021). Simply put, the hazard element of risk can be reduced by investment in mitigation whereas adaptation measures can alleviate vulnerability and exposure. In this blog post, we will focus on adaptation.

The idea of including adaptation in risk assessments is not new: previously, empirical assessments have included adaptation into the assessments of vulnerability to climate change. The way it is operationalized in an assessment depends on how vulnerability is conceptualized. Specifically, defining vulnerability as an outcome allows examining the “residual vulnerability” – the net outcome vulnerability after adaptation has taken place (Jurgilevich et al., 2017; O’Brien et al., 2007).

Additionally, IPCC AR6 WGII has taken an important step forward by accounting for the indirect and “accidental” impacts of responses, be it geographically or in another sector. For example, a response can directly target heat risk in cities by enhancing green infrastructure, but it can also include a mitigation or adaptation response in another sector that has an indirect effect on heat risk (e.g. blue infrastructure that targets flood risks or wind corridors in cities that improve air quality) (Simpson et al., 2021). In addition to such co-benefits, the effects of responses elsewhere can be harmful, i.e. maladaptive (see more on maladaptation in e.g. (Juhola et al., 2016).

This means that adaptation plans and risk assessments must have a tangibly more cross-sectoral approach, which should aid smooth policy mainstreaming and implementation. A cross-sectoral approach to adaptation, as well as avoiding maladaptive outcomes, brings about its own challenges to assessments, as tangling out the myriad of interconnections and cascading pathways by which adaptation measures can affect other sectors and regions and vice versa, is indeed a laborious task. For instance, some common adaptation measures that deal with water shortages brought about by climate change, such as desalination, water recycling and groundwater recharge, are very energy-intensive, thus increasing the demand for energy production. However, energy production tends to require large amounts of water, further exacerbating the water shortage problem (Huntington et al., 2021).

With the new approach to risk, more research is needed on methods: how can response be included in assessments? So far, adaptation simulations have been included into quantitative assessments of vulnerability, using index mapping approaches. Some qualitative assessments have discussed and analyzed different adaptation scenarios and possible outcomes.  Other methods need to be developed and tested, and re-engaging with the adaptation implementation and policy analysis literature can be useful. One such method, for example, is Dynamic Adaptive Policy Pathways (DAPP) that explores various adaptation outcomes and allows for a complex systemic approach to adaptation planning (Haasnoot et al., 2019). It is yet to be tested how its integration into risk assessments can be carried out.

Overall, understanding all relevant responses makes assessments more complex, but also more encompassing and, hopefully, more useful for efficient and coordinated adaptation planning. By including response in risk assessments, we are urged to look for synergies with other policy targets, which may avoid potential conflicts and maladaptive outcomes.

This is the third post in our AR6 WGII-related blog series where we highlight some interesting new approaches in the field of climate risk and adaptation research. Read the previous post from here. In the next post, we talk about climate justice. 


Haasnoot, M., Warren, A., Kwakkel, J. H., Warren, A., & Kwakkel, J. H. (2019). Dynamic Adaptive Policy Pathways (DAPP). Decision Making under Deep Uncertainty, 71–92.

Huntington, H. P., Schmidt, J. I., Loring, P. A., Whitney, E., Aggarwal, S., Byrd, A. G., Dev, S., Dotson, A. D., Huang, D., Johnson, B., Karenzi, J., Penn, H. J. F., Salmon, A. A., Sambor, D. J., Schnabel, W. E., Wies, R. W., & Wilber, M. (2021). Applying the food–energy–water nexus concept at the local scale. Nature Sustainability 2021 4:8, 4(8), 672–679.

Juhola, S., Glaas, E., Linnér, B. O., & Neset, T. S. (2016). Redefining maladaptation. Environmental Science and Policy, 55, 135–140.

Jurgilevich, A., Räsänen, A., Groundstroem, F., & Juhola, S. (2017). A systematic review of dynamics in climate risk and vulnerability assessments. Environmental Research Letters, 12(1), 013002.

O’Brien, K., Eriksen, S., Nygaard, L. P., & Schjolden, A. (2007). Why different interpretations of vulnerability matter in climate change discourses. Climate Policy, 7(1), 73–88.

Simpson, N. P., Mach, K. J., Constable, A., Hess, J., Hogarth, R., Howden, M., Lawrence, J., Lempert, R. J., Muccione, V., Mackey, B., New, M. G., O’Neill, B., Otto, F., Pörtner, H. O., Reisinger, A., Roberts, D., Schmidt, D. N., Seneviratne, S., Strongin, S., … Trisos, C. H. (2021). A framework for complex climate change risk assessment. One Earth, 4(4), 489–501.