Supporting planners to understand social and spatial vulnerability to climate change

Researchers at Manchester have developed a mapping tool to provide a practical way to measure climate disadvantage and identify vulnerable groups. The findings have been used to inform local planning and policy responses to climate change.

Impact highlights

  • The Climate Just mapping tool is helping to develop more socially aware responses to climate change.
  • The free-to-use tool provides a practical way to measure climate disadvantage and identify vulnerable groups.
  • The research has been used to inform the UK government’s Committee on Climate Change.

The link between climate disadvantage and social vulnerability

Climate change can impact anyone, but some people are more acutely affected than others. The extent to which people are affected depends not only on their exposure to events like floods and heatwaves, but also on various forms of social vulnerability.

Disability, absence of community support, and lack of private transport and income can all make people more vulnerable to climate impacts. Until now, practitioners lacked the tools to bring together climate change data with an understanding of social and spatial vulnerability.

A new tool for climate change adaptation

To tackle this problem, researchers at The University of Manchester developed the free-to-use Climate Just resource. Climate Just provides evidence, guidance and case studies to support the development of more socially aware responses to climate change.

The interactive maps in the Climate Just mapping tool, and the key concept of climate disadvantage that underpins it, demonstrate how important a knowledge of social vulnerability is to decision making.

Professor Richard Kingston

Professor Richard Kingston

Richard Kingston is Professor of Urban Planning and Geographic Information Science at The University of Manchester.

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Research to support the planning process

The Climate Just mapping tool is the brainchild of Richard Kingston, Professor of Urban Planning and Geographic Information Science, who worked on the Climate Just resource together with Professor Sarah Lindley and Professor John O’Neill of The University of Manchester.  

Professor Kingston has spent the last 20 years developing methods and tools to make Geographic Information Systems (GIS) more accessible.

The Climate Just mapping tool stems from his research into the role of information and communication technology in supporting planning and development processes. 

The team placed potential users of the tool at the heart of its development, in a bid to make sure that it could support planning at a local level as well as UK-wide policymaking in response to climate change.

As a result, the tool shows geographical distributions of: 

  • characteristics such as older age or existing ill health, which could influence how heatwaves or floods lead to negative impacts; 
  • physical aspects of the local environment that could heighten or offset the severity of heatwaves or floods; 
  • factors suggesting how well people can prepare, respond and recover from heatwaves and floods. 

“The Climate Just tool maps the relationship between social exclusion and the impacts of climate change, offering the opportunity to tailor policy to meet the needs of those most vulnerable to climate change.”

Town and Country Planning Association and Royal Town Planning Institute

Impact on planning practice

Social vulnerability is now included in practitioner guidance published by UK professional planning bodies.

The Town and Country Planning Association and the Royal Town Planning Institute now recommend the Climate Just tool to help illustrate the impacts of climate change on different communities.  

The mapping tool provides a practical mechanism to measure climate disadvantage and identify affected groups and areas.

It has informed climate adaptation strategies and risk assessments at both a local and national level. 

Under the 2008 Climate Change Act, the UK government is required to provide a nationwide climate change risk assessment every five years.

The Climate Just mapping tool informed the 2017 UK Climate Change Risk Assessment Evidence Report (CCRA), produced by the Committee on Climate Change.

The CCRA drew on Climate Just to highlight, for the first time, social equity as an influence on susceptibility to climate change.

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