Research Article: Vulnerability of the agricultural sector to climate change: The development of a pan-tropical Climate Risk Vulnerability Assessment to inform sub-national decision making

Date Published: March 27, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Louis Parker, Clement Bourgoin, Armando Martinez-Valle, Peter Läderach, Shahbaz Mushtaq.


As climate change continues to exert increasing pressure upon the livelihoods and agricultural sector of many developing and developed nations, a need exists to understand and prioritise at the sub national scale which areas and communities are most vulnerable. The purpose of this study is to develop a robust, rigorous and replicable methodology that is flexible to data limitations and spatially prioritizes the vulnerability of agriculture and rural livelihoods to climate change. We have applied the methodology in Vietnam, Uganda and Nicaragua, three contrasting developing countries that are particularly threatened by climate change. We conceptualize vulnerability to climate change following the widely adopted combination of sensitivity, exposure and adaptive capacity. We used Ecocrop and Maxent ecological models under a high emission climate scenario to assess the sensitivity of the main food security and cash crops to climate change. Using a participatory approach, we identified exposure to natural hazards and the main indicators of adaptive capacity, which were modelled and analysed using geographic information systems. We finally combined the components of vulnerability using equal-weighting to produce a crop specific vulnerability index and a final accumulative score. We have mapped the hotspots of climate change vulnerability and identified the underlying driving indicators. For example, in Vietnam we found the Mekong delta to be one of the vulnerable regions due to a decline in the climatic suitability of rice and maize, combined with high exposure to flooding, sea level rise and drought. However, the region is marked by a relatively high adaptive capacity due to developed infrastructure and comparatively high levels of education. The approach and information derived from the study informs public climate change policies and actions, as vulnerability assessments are the bases of any National Adaptation Plans (NAP), National Determined Contributions (NDC) and for accessing climate finance.

Partial Text

Positive strides have been made at the international level to address the impacts of climate change. The 21st meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) helped mainstream the establishment of nationally determined contributions (NDCs) which bind countries to reach predefined mitigation and offsetting targets [1]. In order to support countries in reaching their respective NDCs, funding for climate adaptation and mitigation projects through mechanisms such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF) have been established. Although an in-balance between the climate finances available and the necessary investments needed to address climate change persists [2], COP 21 contributed to positive engagements, commitments and increased funding for climate change mitigation and adaptation activities [2].

In the following section we will present in detail the results of the CRVA for Vietnam using maize as an example to display the adaptive capacity, sensitivity, exposure and overall vulnerability of the cropping system to climate change (Fig 2). Although we will focus on maize, the overall vulnerability index for rice and coffee Robusta in Vietnam are displayed in S2 Fig. We will then present the final vulnerability index for each country and highlight for Vietnam and Nicaragua, where expert validation has been provided, three areas of comparatively high vulnerability and the indicators driving the elevated scores.

A need exists to identify which areas at the sub national scale are most vulnerable to climate change and require intervention and support. The limited financial and technical capacity available to countries means that investments must be strategic and targeted to the most vulnerable areas. In light of this we have applied the CRVA methodology to Vietnam, Nicaragua and Uganda, three developing countries located in the tropics. In Vietnam we have identified three zones which are particularly vulnerable to climate change, notably (i) the Mekong Delta, due to a loss of climatic suitability for rice and maize (sensitivity) and the presence of flooding, drought and sea level rise (exposure), (ii) the central highlands, due to a loss of climatic suitability for coffee (sensitivity), the presence of flooding and drought (exposure) and low adaptive capacity, and (iii) Son La, due to a loss of climatic suitability for maize (sensitivity), the presence of soil erosion (exposure), and low adaptive capacity.




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