Understanding Climate Risk in the Context of Climate Change

What is Climate Risk?

Climate risk refers to risk assessments based on formal analysis of the consequences, likelihoods, and responses to the impacts of climate change and how societal constraints shape adaptation options.

To understand climate risk, we need to master its three components: Hazard, Exposure, and Vulnerability



Climate hazard: A physical process or event (hydro-meteorological or oceanographic variables or phenomena) that can harm human health, livelihoods, or natural resources. Climate hazards must be present to decide whether there is a climate risk or not. For example, changes in precipitation both in amount and how it is distributed within weeks or months.


It refers to the fact that certain regions, sectors, ecosystems, and social groups will be confronted by the impacts of climate change. There must be exposure to determine if there is a climate risk or not. For example, heavy downpour and storms in the ocean away from the navigation path is not considered a risk, since humans, properties, and biodiversity are not exposed to it. On the other hand, similar events on land will affect properties and biodiversity since they are exposed to them.



Vulnerability is the degree to which a system is susceptible to and unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. For example, farmers with sophisticated technology or irrigation system can easily adapt/respond to drought or seasonal petals. Subsistence farmers lacking the techniques or mechanism may not quickly respond when there is little or no rainfall.

If the changes in weather and climate will not necessarily harm the system, then there is no climate risk in that context. If the system is vulnerable, that is having the attributes that can make it bounce back, then there is climate risk.

Not all RISKS are the same in terms of the probability of when there will come, and how often they will come, but also on the severity, they will cause. The different types of climate risk can be illustrated below.

Types of climate risks

High-Frequency Low severity

This category of risk can be controlled by putting in place planned or systematic adaptation measures. Examples are the seasonal distribution of the rain and slid increase in temperature.

Low-Frequency Medium Loss

This category does not occur quite often but causes medium losses, for example, the collapse of rain during the whole cropping season which is witnessed across Africa.

Very Low Frequency Very High Loss

This category is unlikely to occur but once it does, it causes high losses. For example, the occurrence of drought for many years will cause a collapse in agricultural approaches, food systems, and even in the income and livelihood of the people, and the eventual continuous decline of the economy.


This then brings us to ADAPTATION, which is the anticipating and planning for unusual weather and climate events, and how they impact humans and natural systems (IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). This means adaptation is meant to increase our adaptive capacity and resilience to weather and climate extremes while reducing vulnerability.


1 Comment

  • Cédric
    Posted January 20, 2023 5:35 am 1Likes

    Good write up. Climate risk is often not taken serious as some people think they are natural phenomena.

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