Skip to main content

An integrated and transferable climate change vulnerability assessment for regional application


While sectoral vulnerability assessments have become common usage in the climate change field, integrated and transferable approaches are still rare. However, comprehensive knowledge is demanded to concretize and prioritize adaptation strategies, which are currently being drafted at national and state levels. We present a multisectoral analysis where sensitivity is quantified by the physical, social, environmental and economic dimension by means of tailor-made approaches for specific sectors. These are directly related to relevant exposure variables defined as relative climatic changes until the end of this century. Aggregation of the sector-specific impacts, comprising both sensitivity and exposure, leads to integrated impact measures. These are then combined with the generic adaptive capacity. We exemplify our methodology for municipalities in the German state North Rhine-Westphalia for two regional climate models. Our approach allows for the integrated assessment, while at the same time enabling a sector-specific perspective. However, various limitations remain, especially regarding the aggregation across sectors. We emphasize the need to consider the aim and methodological advantages and disadvantages before applying any vulnerability assessment.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8
Fig. 9


  1. Local administrative unit according to the Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics of the European Union


  • Adger WN, Vincent K (2005) Uncertainty in adaptive capacity. Comptes Rendus Geosci 337(4):399–410. doi:10.1016/jcrte.2004.11.004

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Adger WN, Agrawala S, Mirza MMQ, Conde C, OBrien K, Pulhin J, Pulwarty R, Smit B, Takahashi K (2007) Assessment of adaptation practices, options, constraints and capacity. In: Parry ML, Canziani OF, Palutikof JP, Linden PJ, Hanson CE (eds) Climate change 2007: impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Contribution of working group II to the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, pp 717–743

    Google Scholar 

  • Agenda 21 Forum (2005) Lokale Agenda 21 und Schule. Beschlüsse in NRW.

  • Araújo MB, Alagador D, Cabeza M, Nogués-Bravo D, Thuiller W (2011) Climate change threatens European conservation areas. Ecol Lett 14(5):484–92

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Birkmann J (2006) Measuring vulnerability to promote disaster-resilient societies: conceptual frameworks and definitions. In: Birkmann J (ed) Measuring vulnerability to natural hazards. United Nations University, pp 9–54

  • Boardman J (2006) Soil erosion science: reflections on the limitations of current approaches. Catena 68(2–3):73–86

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Brooks N, Adger WN, Kelly PM (2005) The determinants of vulnerability and adaptive capacity at the national level and the implications for adaptation. Glob Environ Chang Hum Policy Dimens 15(2):151–163

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Castro D, Einfalt T, Frerichs S, Friedeheim K, Hatzfeld F, Kubik A, Mittelstädt R, Müller M, Seltmann J, Wagner A (2008) Vorhersage und Management von Sturzfluten in urbanen Gebieten (URBAS). Schlussbericht. Technical report, Hydrotec Ingenieurgesellschaft für Wasser und Umwelt mbH, Aachen, Fachhochschule Aachen, FB Architektur, Deutscher Wetterdienst, Meteorologisches Observatorium Hohenpeißenberg, Aachen

  • Ciscar JC, Iglesias A, Feyen L, Szabó L, Van Regemorter D, Amelung B, Nicholls R, Watkiss P, Christensen OB, Dankers R, Garrote L, Goodess CM, Hunt A, Moreno A, Richards J, Soria A (2011) Physical and economic consequences of climate change in Europe. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108(7):2678–2683

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Collier C (2007) Flash flood forecasting: What are the limits of predictability? Q J R Meteorol Soc 133(622):3–23

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Coops H, Beklioglu M, Crisman TL (2003) The role of water-level fluctuations in shallow lake ecosystems—workshop conclusions. Hydrobiologica 506(509):23–27

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Costa L, Kropp JP (2012) Linking components of vulnerability in theoretic frameworks and case studies. Sustain Sci. doi:10.1007/s11625-012-0158-4

  • Crimmins SM, Dobrowski SZ, Greenberg JA, Abatzoglou JT, Mynsberge aR (2011) Changes in climatic water balance drive downhill shifts in plant species’ optimum elevations. Science 331(6015):324–327

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cutter S, Burton C (2010) Disaster resilience indicators for benchmarking baseline conditions. Homel Secur Emerg Manag 7(1):1–22

    Google Scholar 

  • Drecker P, Genske DD, Heinrich K, Noll HP (1995) Subsidence and wetland development in the Ruhr district of Germany. Land subsidence. Proceedings of the fifth international symposium on land subsidence. The Hague, IAHS Publ. No. 234, pp. 413–421

  • EnergyAgencyNRW (2009) NRW—Kommunen, Gemeinden und Kreise. Beteiligung am European Energy Award.

  • Engle NL (2011) Adaptive capacity and its assessment. Glob Environ Chang 21(2):647–656

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fekete A, Damm M, Birkmann J (2010) Scales as a challenge for vulnerability assessment. Nat Hazards 55(3):729–747

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Förster H, Lilliestam J (2009) Modeling thermoelectric power generation in view of climate change. Reg Environ Chang 10(4):327–338

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fuchs S, Kuhlicke C, Meyer V (2011) Editorial for the special issue: vulnerability to natural hazards: the challenge of integration. Nat Hazards 58(2):609–619

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Füssel H, Klein R (2006) Climate change vulnerability assessments: an evolution of conceptual thinking. Clim Chang 75(3):301–329. doi:10.1007/s10584-006-0329-3

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Glade T, Felgentreff C, Birkmann J (2010) Editorial for the special issue: extreme events and vulnerability in environment and society. Nat Hazards 55(3):571–576

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Greiving S, Lindner C, Lückenkötter J (2011) Conceptual and methodological framework. In: Greiving et al (eds) ESPON climate—climate change and territorial effects on regions and local economies. Final report, pp 3–11

  • Grünewald U, Schümberg S, Wöllecke B, Graf-van Riesenbeck G, Piroth K (2009) Gutachten—Zu Entstehung und Verlauf des extremen Niederschlag-Abfluss-Ereignisses am 26.07.2008 im Stadtgebiet von Dortmund einschließlich der Untersuchung der Funktionsfähigkeit von wasserwirtschaftlichen Anlagen und Einrichtungen der Stadt, Emscherg. BTU Cottbus, ARCADIS Consult GmbH, Cottbus, Karlsruhe, Köln

  • Held T (2000) Regenwasserversickerung in urbanen Landschaften. Probleme und Lösungsansätze in der Planung am Beispiel der Emscherregion. Zeitschrift für Angewandte Geographie 4:20–26

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hellmeier W, Stausberg J, Hollmann B (2007) Untersuchungen in NRW zu Auswirkungen der Hitzewelle 2003 auf die kurzzeitige Mortalität. Technical report, LÖGD. Materialien “Umwelt und Gesundheit”

  • Hinkel J (2011) Indicators of vulnerability and adaptive capacity: towards a clarification of the science-policy interface. Glob Environ Chang 21(1):198–208

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Holsten A, Dominic AR, Costa L, Kropp JP (2012) Evaluation of the performance of meteorological forest fire indices for German federal states (under review)

  • Hydrotec (2004) Hochwasser-Aktionsplan Emscher. Grundlagen, Überflutungsgebiete, Schaden. Technical report, Emschergenossenschaft/Hydrotec, Aachen

  • IFT (2008) Masterplan Wintersportarena Sauerland/Siegerland-Wittgenstein. Technical report, IFT—Freizeit- und Tourismusberatung GmbH, Köln

  • IPCC (2001) Annex B: glossary of terms. In: RT Watson, theCore Writing Team (eds) Climate change 2001: synthesis report (contribution of working groups I, II and III to the third assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 365–389

    Google Scholar 

  • IPCC (2007) Climate change 2007—impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Contribution of working group II to the fourth assessment report of the IPCC. Technical report, International Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge

  • IPCC (2011) Summary for policymakers. In: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report on managing the risks of extreme events and disasters to advance climate change adaptation. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

  • Jacob D, Mahrenholz P, Keup-Thiel E (2006) REMO A1B Scenario Run “REMO_UBA_A1B_D3 and REMO climate off the 20th century run “REMO_UBA_C20_D3”, Datastream 3, UBA project, CERA-DB. Technical report, World Data Center for Climate

  • Jonkman S (2005) Global perspectives on loss of human life caused by floods. Nat Hazards 34(2):151–175

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kehl M, Everding C, Botschek J, Skowronek A (2005) Erosion processes and erodibility of cultivated soils in North Rhine-Westphalia under artificial rain—I. Site characteristics and results of laboratory experiments. J Plant Nutr Soil Sci 168(1):34–44

    Google Scholar 

  • Klaus M, Holsten A, Hostert P, Kropp JP (2011) Integrated methodology to assess windthrow impacts on forest stands under climate change. For Ecol Manag 261(11):1799–1810

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kosatsky T (2005) The 2003 European heat waves. Eurosurveillance 10(7–9):148–149

    Google Scholar 

  • Kropp JP, Block A, Reusswig F, Zickfeld K, Schellnhuber HJ (2006) Semiquantitative assessment of regional climate vulnerability: the North-Rhine Westphalia study. Clim Chang 76(3–4):265–290

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kropp J, Holsten A, Lissner T, Roithmeier O, Hattermann F, Huang S, Rock J, Wechsung F, Lüttger A, Pompe S, Kühn I, Costa L, Steinhäuser M, Walther C, Klaus M, Ritchie S, Metzger M (2009) Klimawandel in Regionale Abschätzung der Anfälligkeit ausgewählter Sektoren—Abschlussbericht. Technical report, Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung, Potsdam

  • Lautenschlager M, Keuler K, Wunram C, Keup-Thiel E, Schubert M, Will A, Rockel B, Boehm U (2009) Climate simulation with CLM, climate of the 20th century run no. 1, 2 and 3 and scenario A1B runs no.1, 2, data stream 3. Technical report, European region MPI-M/MaD, World Data Center for Climate

  • Leira M, Cantonati M (2008) Effects of water-level fluctuations on lakes: an annotated bibliography. Hydrobiologia 613:171–184

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lin BB, Morefield PE (2011) The vulnerability cube: a multi-dimensional framework for assessing relative vulnerability. Environ Manag 49(3):631–643

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lissner T, Holsten A, Walther C, Kropp J (2011) Towards sectoral and standardised vulnerability assessments: the example of heatwave impacts on human health. Clim Chang (online first). doi:10.1007/s10584-011-0231-5

  • LWK NRW (2008) Zahlen zur Landwirtschaft in Nordrhein-Westfalen 2008

  • Meinke I, Gerstner EM, von Storch H, Marx A, Schipper H, Kottmeier C, Treffeisen R, Lemke P (2010) Regionaler Klimaatlas Deutschland der Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft informiert im Internet über möglichen künftigen Klimawandel. DMG Mitteilungen 2:5–7.

  • Metzger MJ, Schröter D (2006) Towards a spatially explicit and quantitative vulnerability assessment of environmental change in Europe. Reg Environ Chang 6(4):201–216

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Müller I (2003) Erosionsschutzmaßnahmen in der Landwirtschaft—Demonstrationsvorhaben. In: Jahresbericht 2003, Landesumweltamt NRW, Recklinghausen, pp 73–75

  • Munich Re (2008) Highs and lows. Weather risks in central Europe. Technical report, Münchener Rückversicherungs-Gesellschaft, Munich

  • MUNLV (2009) Anpassung an den Klimawandel. Eine Strategie für Nordrhein-Westfalen. Technical report, Ministerium für Klimaschutz, Umwelt, Landwirtschaft, Natur- und Verbraucherschutz, NRW, Düsseldorf

  • MUNLV (2010) Abschlussbericht der Landesregierung von Nordrhein-Westfalen zu den Folgen des Sturmereignisses “Kyrill” vom 18./19. Januar 2007. Technical report, Ministerium für Klimaschutz, Umwelt, Landwirtschaft, Natur- und Verbraucherschutz, NRW, Münster

  • MWEBWV (2010) Basisdaten zum Standort NRW. Technical report, Ministerium für Wirtschaft, Energie, Bauen, Wohnen und Verkehr des Landes Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf, Germany.

  • Nakicenovic N, Alcamo J, Davis G (2000) Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES). Technical report, working group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

  • O’Brien KL, Leichenko R, Kelkar U, Venema H, Aandahl G, Tompkins H, Javed A, Bhadwal S, Barg S, Nygaard L (2004) Mapping vulnerability to multiple stressors: climate change and globalization in India. Glob Environ Chang Part A 14(4):303–313

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Olonscheck M, Holsten A, Kropp JP (2011) Heating and cooling energy demand and related emissions of the German residential building stock under climate change. Energy Policy 39(9):4795–4806

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Patt a, Klein R, Delavegaleinert A (2005) Taking the uncertainty in climate-change vulnerability assessment seriously. Comptes Rendus Geosci 337(4):411–424

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pompe S, Hanspach J, Badeck F, Klotz S, Thuiller W, Kuhn I (2008) Climate and land use change impacts on plant distributions in Germany. Biol Lett 4(5):564–567

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Preston BL, Yuen EJ, Westaway RM (2011) Putting vulnerability to climate change on the map: a review of approaches, benefits, and risks. Sustain Sci 6(2):177–202

    Google Scholar 

  • R Development Core Team (2009) R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria.

  • Rahmstorf S, Coumou D (2011) Increase of extreme events in a warming world. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108(44):17905–17909

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rannow S, Loibl W, Greiving S, Gruehn D, Meyer BC (2010) Potential impacts of climate change in Germany—identifying regional priorities for adaptation activities in spatial planning. Landsc Urban Plan 98(3–4):160–171

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Renard KG, Foster GR, Weesies GA (1997) Predicting soil erosion by water. A guide to conservation planning with the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE), vol 703. U.S. Department of Agriculture

  • Riis T, Hawes I (2002) Relationships between water level fluctuations and vegetation diversity in shallow water of New Zealand lakes. Aquat Bot 74(2):133–148

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Roth R, Türk S, Armbruster F, Polenz R, Velten A, Schrahe C (2001) Masterplan Wintersport im Sauerland und Siegerland-Wittgenstein. Räumliche Entwicklungskonzeption und Marktanalyse. Technical report 6, Institut für Natursport und Ökologie der Deutschen Sporthochschule Köln, ift Freizeit- und Tourismusberatung GmbH, Köln, Köln

  • Rybski D, Holsten A, Kropp JP (2011) Towards a unified characterization of phenological phases: fluctuations and correlations with temperature. Phys A Stat Mech Appl 390(4):680–688

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sauerborn P, Klein A, Botschek J, Skowronek A (1999) Future rainfall erosivity derived from large-scale climate models—methods and scenarios for a humid region. Geoderma 93(3–4):269–276

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Scheffer M, van Nes EH (2007) Shallow lakes theory revisited: various alternative regimes driven by climate, nutrients, depth and lake size. Hydrobiologia 584:455–466

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schelhaas M-J, Nabuurs G-J, Schuck A (2003) Natural disturbances in the European forests in the 19th and 20th centuries. Glob Change Biol 9(11):1620–1633

  • Schindler U, Steidl J, Müller L, Eulenstein F, Thiere J (2007) Drought risk to agricultural land in Northeast and Central Germany. J Plant Nutr Soil Sci 170(3):357–362

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Schwertmann U, Vogl W, Kainz M (1990) Bodenerosion durch Wasser. Vorhersage des Abtrags und Bewertung von Gegenmaßnahmen, 2nd edn. Eugen Ulmer GmbH & Co., Stuttgart

    Google Scholar 

  • Spekat A, Gerstengarbe FW, Kreienkamp F, Werner PC (2006) Fortschreibung der Klimaszenarien für Nordrhein-Westfalen. Bericht im Auftrag der Landesanstalt für Okologie, Bodenordnung und Forsten Nordrhein-Westfalen. Technical report 2, Climate & Environment Consulting Potsdam GmbH, Potsdam

  • Svenning JC, Skov F (2006) Potential impact of climate change on the northern nemoral forest herb flora of Europe. Biodivers Conserv 15(10):3341–3356. doi:10.1007/s10531-005-1345-8

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Te Linde AH, Bubeck P, Dekkers JEC, de Moel H, Aerts JCJH (2011) Future flood risk estimates along the river Rhine. Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci 11(2):459–473

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Thuiller W, Lavorel S, Araujo MB, Sykes MT, Prentice IC (2005) Climate change threats to plant diversity in Europe. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 102(23):8245–8250

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • UN/ISDR (2004) Living with risk. A global review of disaster reduction initiatives, vol 1. Technical report, United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, Geneva

  • Vohland K, Cramer W (2009) Auswirkungen des Klimawandels auf gefährdete Biotoptypen und Schutzgebiete. Jahrbuch für Naturschutz und Landschaftspflege 57:22–27

    Google Scholar 

  • WSA (2011) Wintersport und -spaß. Wintersport-Arena Sauerland.

  • Zebisch M, Grothmann T, Schröter D, Hasse C, Fritsch U, Cramer W (2005) Climate change in Germany—vulnerability and adaption of climate sensitive sectors. Technical report, Umweltbundesamt, Nr. 10/2005, Dessau, Germany

Download references


Fundamental parts of this study were carried out within the North Rhine-Westphalia study financed by the Ministry for Climate Protection, Environment, Agriculture, Nature Conservation and Consumer Protection (MUNLV) and within the ESPON Climate project part-financed by the European Regional Development Fund. We wish to thank the project team, especially Stefan Greiving, Johannes Lückenkötter, Christian Lindner from TU Dortmund University and Philipp Schmidt-Thomé from the Geological Survey of Finland for fruitful discussions on the methodology. We also thank our colleagues Ylva Hauf and Olivia Roithmeier for methodological support and Tabea Lissner for commenting on the manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Anne Holsten.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

PDF (2421 KB)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Holsten, A., Kropp, J.P. An integrated and transferable climate change vulnerability assessment for regional application. Nat Hazards 64, 1977–1999 (2012).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Impact assessment
  • Global warming
  • Extreme event