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Practitioners, policy analysts, consultants and researchers who wish to assess climate change vulnerability, impacts and adaptation (VIA) are currently confronted with a large number of concepts, methods, frameworks, guidelines and toolboxes to choose from. Prominent frameworks and guidelines have been developed, for example, by Carter et al. (1994), Jones (2001), UNDP (2002), Turner et al. (2003), Füssel and Klein (2006) and O’Brien et al. (2007). Prominent examples of toolkits are the “Community Level Risk Assessment Toolkit” maintained by the Provention Consortium (Provention Consortium, 2006) and the “Compendium on Methods and Tools to evaluate Impacts of, Vulnerability and Adaptation to, Global Environmental Change” of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, 2006) as well as its follow up activities under the “Nairobi work programme on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change”.

This diversity reflects that there can not be a single approach to CCVIA. CCVIA is assessed at all scales, for all sectors and across policy domains. The systems, time-scales and questions considered are diverse. Adaptation, for example, may refer to diverse human activities such as mainstreaming climate adaptation into policy, raising dikes, or helping communities to mobilise their own resources in order to adjust themselves to an increasing frequency or intensity of hydro-meteorological hazards. As a consequence, a diversity of methods are applied including participatory, experimental, action-research, decision-analytical, institutionanalytical and computer simulation ones. The methods applied, which are described more fully later in this guidance, stem from different scientific research traditions, research fields and natural and social sciences disciplines.

Furthermore, addressing CCVIA is usually not a case of applying a single method, but rather one of applying several methods. An impact model, for example, might be applied to produce knowledge on climate risks, a stakeholder workshop might then be conducted to elicit possible adaptation responses to these and a multi-criteria analysis might then be applied to evaluate options.

Despite or maybe due to this diversity, there is little guidance on which approach is appropriate in a given situation. Toolboxes enumerate a large number of methods but usually say little on which methods are suitable when confronted with a particular case. In addition, a multitude of abstract and often ambiguously defined concepts such as vulnerability, risk, resilience, adaptive capacity are used to label approaches and methods, which renders the selection of an appropriate approach even more difficult.

Thi guidance on assessing CCVIA provides guidance on which approach is applicable in which situation. A special emphasis is thus placed on the first step in any assessment of VIA, namely, the framing of the challenge to be addressed by the assessment. This step is crucial because assessments carried out under the general labels of “impact”, “vulnerability” or “adaptation”, actually address very different types of challenges.

In the face of the diversity of challenges, this guidance does not provide a single entry point to assessing VIA but multiple ones depending on the type of challenge that the analyst is facing. The idea is that a national-level policy analyst who is facing the challenge of developing a national strategy for adaptation requires a different entry point to VIA than an engineer confronted with the challenge of deciding by how much to raise a dike or a development practitioner trying to promote adaptation actions in a community that experiences frequent floods.

Note that this guidance restrict itself to assessments of VIA that aim to contribute to human adaptation. We consider only methods related to assessing impacts or vulnerability that serve, either directly or indirectly, the goal of adaptation. We exclude those impact and vulnerability assessments that are carried out for other goals such as, for example, to establish mitigation targets.