Image: California Department of Water Resources

Climate Vulnerability

Preparing for climate change requires increasing the resilience of communities and people to be able to withstand and recover from climate-related disruptions, and to be able to learn and adapt in the face of this change. However, some communities are better positioned to respond, recover, and adjust as these changes occur, while others are more vulnerable and experience disproportionate impacts.

Factors that contribute to vulnerability include existing inequities, institutionalized racism, and exclusion; poor environmental conditions, lack of access to services, and poor living conditions; existing conditions such as chronic health or mental illnesses; and a lack of investment and opportunities. All of these factors contribute to a person or community’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and ability to adapt.

Communities on the front lines of climate change caution that the goal of climate adaptation should not be to simply help people “bounce back” after disasters and other climate effects, but to “bounce forward” to a renewable, sustainable economy marked by inclusive democratic participation in the policy decisions that affect daily life.[1]

Moving towards an integrated approach

The Governor and legislature of California recognize that while climate change touches everyone, the impacts do not affect all people equally and resources must support the resilience of the people most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. While not specific to climate adaptation, the California Legislature recognizes the need to target climate mitigation investments in Disadvantaged Communities. Authorized by the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32), the cap-and-trade program is one of several strategies that California uses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. The funds must be used for programs that further reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, and through Senate Bill 535 (de Leon) and Assembly Bill 1550 (Gomez), a dedicated share of the proceeds from the State’s cap-and-trade program must benefit disadvantaged communities.

Many of the State’s existing climate mitigation investment programs are also building in climate adaptation and resiliency components, specifically targeting efforts that build resilience within disadvantaged and vulnerable communities. And, with the passage of Assembly Bill 398, climate adaptation and resiliency is now identified as one of the seven priority expenditure areas for the cap-and-trade program.

State agencies, prioritizing actions that promote equity and foster community resilience

As directed by Executive Order B-30-15, state agencies are also taking action to incorporate climate adaptation considerations into planning and investment decisions. Guided by the principles specified in the executive order, state agencies need to “prioritize actions that promote equity and foster community resilience”.

While many state agencies are in the early stage of implementing EO B-30-15, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, with support from a Technical Advisory Group, developed guidance to support agency implementation, including guidance on how to promote equity and foster community resilience.

How to prioritize actions that promote equity

Entities working to create or implement adaptation plans, programs, or projects should identify vulnerable communities by assessing physical, social and economic factors. . While a tool has yet to exist that specifically identifies vulnerability to climate impacts related to adaptive capacity, tools such as CalEnviroScreen 3.0, the Healthy Places Index, and the Regional Opportunity Index can be used to identify vulnerable communities by census tract. These tools, when used in combination with climate projections can help to identify how a changing climate may exacerbate existing inequities. Cal-Adapt is a publically accessible online resource that provides climate projections data and visualization tools.

Building community resilience also requires meaningful collaboration and partnership with frontline communities that are experts in creating solutions that are responsive to community need and opportunity. Inclusive public engagement is essential to give people a voice and decision-making power over actions that affect their lives.

A useful tool to help public agencies incorporate equity considerations into community resilience and adaptation efforts is the Equity Checklist (link), a tool included in the EO B-30-15 guidance. Public agencies can apply equity considerations by completing the Equity Checklist as part of adaptation and resiliency processes.

All Resources for Equity And Environmental Justice

Equity Checklist

Governor's Office of Planning and Research. 2017
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Planning and policy guidance
As part of the EO B-30-15 Guidance, the Technical Advisory Group that helped to develop this guidance created an Equity Checklist that can be used alongside any decision making process to ensure that plans and investments identify and protect the State’s most vulnerable populations.

Guide to Equitable, Community-Driven Climate Preparedness Planning

Urban Sustainability Directors Network. 2017
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Communication or educational material Data, tools, and research
This document provides guidance to local governments in designing and implementing a more inclusive, equitable planning process. It provides guidance on how to address equity issues with specific adaptation solutions, tactics for inclusive community engagement, and on how to address the root causes of inequities in climate risk.

Mapping Our Future: A Work Plan for Public Engagement and Equity in Climate Adaptation Planning in the San Francisco Bay Area

Bay Localize. 2013
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Assessment Communication or educational material Data, tools, and research
This report presents a work plan for regional agencies to partner with community groups on climate adaptation, and support local governments in doing so. It also presents parallel recommendations for funders and community groups. The work plan was designed to provide information and consultation to help to fully integrate social equity and environmental justice issues into Bay Area adaptation planning.


OEHHA. 2017
Data, tools, and research
CalEnviroScreen is a screening methodology used to help identify communities disproportionately burdened by multiple sources of pollution and with population characteristics that make them more sensitive to pollution. The CalEnviroScreen is often used by the State to prioritize funding opportunities.

California Healthy Places Index (HPI)

Public Health Alliance of Southern California. 2017
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Data, tools, and research
The California Healthy Places Index (HPI) is an interactive online data and GIS mapping tool that allows users to easily visualize the social and economic conditions that shape health in each neighborhood in California. HPI is validated with life expectancy and provides census tract rankings across the state. As of 2017, the Healthy Places Index platform also includes climate change indicators. This tool provides graphic overlays of climate risks, vulnerabilities and indicators of adaptive capacity, along with the healthy places index score, and other key decision support layers. HPI moves data into action by providing policy briefs outlining best practices to address risks associated with climate indicators.

California Statewide Plan to Promote Health and Mental Health Equity

California Department of Public Health. 2015
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Plan or strategy
This is the first biennial report of the Office of Health Equity (OHE), established in 2012. Refer to this report to ensure that your adaptation efforts promote health equity and enhance the resilience of vulnerable and disadvantaged communities.

Climate Change & Health Equity Program

California Department of Public Health. 2018
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Planning and policy guidance
The Climate Change and Health Equity Program (CCHEP) embeds health and equity in California climate change planning, and embeds climate change and equity in public health planning. CCHEP works with local, state, and national partners to assure that climate change mitigation and adaptation activities have beneficial effects on health while not exacerbating already existing unfair and preventable differences in health status of some groups (health inequities).

Defining Vulnerable Communities in the Context of Climate Adaptation

Governor's Office of Planning and Research. 2018
Planning and policy guidance
The Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, with input from the ICARP Technical Advisory Council, developed this resource guide as a starting point for practitioners to use when first considering how to define vulnerable communities in an adaptation context. The document includes the ICARP Technical Advisory Council’s definition of climate-vulnerable communities, a summary of existing statewide assessment tools that can be used to identify vulnerable communities in a climate adaptation context, additional indicators that could be used to assess underlying vulnerability on a case-by-case basis, and a list of process guides that can serve to aid agencies undertaking efforts to define vulnerable communities.

Equity in Building Resilience in Adaptation Planning (January 2015)

National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. 2015
Data, tools, and research
This document provides a sample list of indicators and/or measures of vulnerability and resilience in terms of infrastructure, community and population characteristics, systems, policies, programs and services, protocols , and governance and decision making. The purpose is to provide a guide to localities to enable them to integrate an equity lens as they seek to build resilience in designing adaptation plans.

Low Income Weatherization Program - Safeguarding California Example

California Natural Resources Agency. 2018
Extreme heat
Project or Example
California state agencies collaborated to compile each of these examples, associated with Safeguarding California's 2018 update, to show how California is preparing for and adjusting to various extreme events brought on by climate change. Each of these examples highlights unique strategies, funded by the state, to combat and adapt to the effects of climate change. The examples are tagged with icons from the Safeguarding California Report, classifying stories by sector. The Low Income Weatherization Program (LIWP)-solar program works with the Single Family Affordable Solar Homes Program (SASH) on providing rebates and installing solar power for economically and environmentally disadvantaged communities.