Energy and Meteorology Portal

Understanding Risk and the Sendai Framework

Framework for Climate Risk

Exposure and sensitivity to climate change, coupled with a relatively low adaptive capacity to offset system vulnerabilities can considerably increase climate risk. Therefore, it is important to quantify the risk posed by climate change and extreme weather events, to better address, plan, adapt and respond to their various, and sometimes compounded, associated threats.

Over the past few decades, there has been a growing emphasis on the need to build a resilient society, which is in harmony with the natural environment. Consequently, even energy systems need to widely reduce their environmental impacts, while contributing to human well-being and development in a sustainable manner. A close coupling between society, nature and the energy systems will be even more important when extreme events or local regime shifts (e.g. from a mild to a hot climate) occur. To plan and take action, the capacity to forecast not only climate variations but also energy demand and generation in order to create scenarios with a high level of accuracy and at different periods is key.

Risk is a combination of three components: hazard, exposure, and vulnerability (Figure 1, click on the blue dots for their definitions).

Climate-related risks are dynamic and changing. Weather and climate hazards like storms, cyclones, or droughts may increase in frequency and intensity in some areas, and be reduced in others. But with good planning, weather-proofing of infrastructure, capacity building and timely and efficient responses, both vulnerability and exposure can be reduced or at least be managed. Collecting data, at a certain location, to evaluate each of these components can be used to assess the future risk that is very context specific (UN-DRR, 2015).
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Figure 1. Dynamic Risk: Hazard, Exposure and Vulnerability

To incorporate key elements of the dynamic and emerging risks, it is important to include the interaction between various risk factors, and multiple time scales have been currently recognized. These kinds of assessments are becoming increasingly accurate thanks to the advancements of W&CSs, as for instance reanalysis data and improved climate projection models improve in quality and are also easier to access. Nevertheless, there is a need of developing encompassing system models that allow a better understanding of the impacts of climate risks across sectors at different spatial and temporal scales.
The influence of drivers to vulnerability can change during the temporal progression of a hazard. It is therefore critical to ensure that there are mechanisms and procedures to incorporate local knowledge to assist with risk assessments to understand locally and regionally specific vulnerabilities (Viner et al, 2020).
Climate projections are available at various levels of resolution, but there can be a trade-off between robustness and capturing fine-grain detail. There is generally greater confidence in projections at a larger geographical scale, and for some variables (e.g. temperature) rather than others (e.g. precipitation).


Weather or Climate Hazards

A weather or climate hazard is a physical process or event (hydro-meteorological or oceanographic variables or phenomena) that can harm human health, livelihoods, or natural resources. They can be chronic or acute. Chronic hazards are long-term pattern shifts in precipitation, temperature, ice melt or sea-level rise. Acute hazards are isolated events, such as floods, landslides, wildfires, storms, heat or cold waves, droughts, and extreme precipitation. However, this is just a nominal distinction as in reality extreme events are part of the natural oscillation of the system as it transits to a different climatic regime, and chronic hazards will occur along the direction that such change is taking, e.g. if moving toward a dryer climate, extreme droughts will increase in frequency. But, as the system is oscillating, some years flash floods may occur in between droughts at earlier stages (Viner et al., 2020, IPCC, 2014).

These hazards can be described using climate indicators drawn from climate models, that can help us to understand the potential that hazards have to cause loss of life, injury, or other health impacts, as well as damage and loss to property, infrastructure, livelihoods, service provision, ecosystems and environmental resources (UN-DDR, 2015). Often indicators such as return periods are used to quantify the frequency (and severity) of the hazards. A return period, also known as a recurrence interval or repeat interval, is an estimated average time of occurrence of successive events, typically acute hazards such as floods, landslides or storms (UN-DDR, 2015).


Vulnerability is the degree of susceptibility or predisposition and the lack of capacity to cope with and adapt to the adverse effects of weather or climate hazards. It is important to note that two assets can be equally exposed to the same hazard but have distinct levels of vulnerability. For example, a wind farm and a hydroelectric power plant that are exposed to the same drought will have different impacts: while the impact on wind farm will be minimal, the impact on hydro-generation will likely be significant.

Vulnerability is a function of sensitivity (to a hazard) and adaptive capacity.
Vulnerability can be assessed at various levels, including but not limited to region, country, sector, company, or asset. It is determined by ground conditions and asset specifications such as building materials, design, construction regulations, land use and interconnections with other vulnerable assets. A comprehensive assessment may require access to data that are not readily available but need to be collected to properly undertake it.

Sensitivity determines how the exposed asset is affected when hazards occur. Higher sensitivity implies increased physical and financial impacts related to climate hazards. Grouping assets by sector and identifying the most sensitive sectors can provide a quick, high-level assessment and help prioritize assets for further in-depth analyses.

Sensitivity is part of an asset’s vulnerability, but it must be combined with adaptive capacity to get the full picture.

Adaptive capacity is the ability of a company, sector or region to adjust effectively to weather and climate hazards. A system with a high adaptive capacity would be able to cope better with, and perhaps even benefit from, changes in the climate, whereas a system with a low adaptive capacity would be more likely to suffer from the same change. For example, establishing a hydroelectric power plant in a location where increased rainfall is expected in the future could be a good strategy, providing that all the other conditions for project development are fulfilled.


Exposure is determined by location and is linked to the hazard probability, intensity and frequency at a certain location. It includes the presence of people, livelihoods, species or ecosystems, environmental functions, services, and resources, infrastructure or economic, social, or cultural assets that could be adversely affected in a certain place.

For the energy sector, exposure can range widely and could include (but it is not limited to) supply chains, companies, sectors, buildings, cities, geographic regions, asset classes, portfolios or sovereigns. New assets can reduce their exposure by considering hazard likelihood under different climate scenarios for their site selection. Or mitigation actions can be taken to reduce the likelihood of flash flood exposure, for example by increasing the forest cover, improving soil structure and reducing the area of impermeable surfaces (pavement, etc). For many hydropower companies, preserving the forest cover of the basin in order to reduce flash floods and siltation is standard practice.