Climate Vulnerability Index – implementation in an urban setting

Overview of the recent Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI) workshop delivered in Edinburgh – the CVI is a rapid assessment tool developed to assess climate change impacts upon World Heritage properties.

BEFS extends thanks to all those involved in producing this detailed overview of the process, learnings and potential outcomes, with special mention to Yann Grandgirard (EWH) and Jenny Bruce (CEC).

Intro – The Climate Vulnerability Index

The Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI) is a rapid assessment tool developed to assess climate change impacts upon World Heritage properties. It is distinct from other vulnerability assessments in that it evaluates both the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) Vulnerability and the Community Vulnerability for all types of World Heritage properties – natural, cultural, or mixed.

Why we did it

The idea of applying the CVI process to the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site (ONTE) originated after its implementation in Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site in 2019. Historic Environment Scotland (HES) was keen to expand this trial to the rest of Scotland’s World Heritage Sites, in conjunction with the CVI developers from James Cook University (JCU), Australia.  Meanwhile Edinburgh World Heritage (EWH) was informing its one-year climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) project*. This provided the perfect opportunity to apply the CVI methodology for the first time in an urban World Heritage property and complement EWH’s CCRA project.

How we did it

Due to the pandemic and the time zone differences between UK and Australia, a virtual workshop was arranged over five mornings. We were fortunate to have over 40 attendees from different sectors engaging with the process, from representatives of Edinburgh’s community councils and the visitor sector at local and national levels, to natural and built heritage experts and climate change specialists from universities, the City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) and local, national and international organisations.

The CVI process is based on a combination of plenary sessions, involving all participants, which introduced the concepts and discussion topics, provided background information and then synthesised results, with four facilitated breakout groups responding to the questions posed.

The process itself is based on identifying what is special about ONTE, based upon eight key values derived from the Statement of Outstanding Universal Value (SOUV).  The current condition and trend of these key values were evaluated, from a baseline of 1995 when ONTE was World Heritage listed. The economic context of ONTE and the social and cultural connections with the community were also assessed.

Considering the climate projections for Edinburgh until 2050 under a ‘business as usual’ high-emissions scenario, the three primary climate stressors predicted to impact ONTE were: increased temperature, increase rainfall and increased frequency and intensity of storm events including extreme rainfall events. We then considered the potential impacts and adaptive capacity of ONTE in relation to these three main climate stressors, for the key values and Economic, Social and Cultural dependencies.

The workshop determined that the OUV Vulnerability was Moderate (which means “some loss or alteration of some of the key WH values will occur, but not causing a significant reduction of OUV”). It also determined that the Community Vulnerability was Moderate, acknowledging the relatively high level of adaptive capacity within the community.

Needless to say, we worked hard behind the scenes as a collective to bring the workshops together.  Our biggest challenges included working across global time zones, which meant a 7am (BST) start for many of our Steering Committee meetings!

Learnings/what we got out of it

The strength of the process relied on acknowledging the crucial links between ONTE and its community: bringing people from various backgrounds and sectors together prompted rich discussions thanks to the diversity of opinion and viewpoints expressed.  Expanding those discussion to non-heritage experts was critical in ensuring comprehensive results.

The diversity of factors and issues to consider was also highlighted by the process, illustrating the complexity of assessing climate change impacts on a World Heritage property located in an urban context, echoing the complexity of the challenges faced in historic city management more broadly.  Intangible values associated with the ONTE, in particular Economic, Social and Cultural dependencies between ONTE and its local community, proved to be the most difficult values to analyse and will require additional research.

The CVI methodology, while rapid and systematic, is also relatively comprehensive! Therefore, facilitation proved to be the cornerstone of a successful CVI process. The structure of the workshops ensured there were opportunities at key stages to allow for reflection and to review results and ensure they were site specific to ONTE. We are grateful to our Australian colleagues who fully demonstrated their skills and experience in this area!

Overall, the condensed format of the workshop allowed discussions to remain focused and progress, while the well-structured process encouraged reflection and response to challenging questions. This led to the successful delivery of a communal assessment of the vulnerability of the ONTE and its community.  This comprehensive but inclusive process was as valuable as the outcomes of the workshop.

Considering the principles underpinning this repeatable framework for rapid assessment of World Heritage properties raises the interesting question of whether the methodology could be applied to other types of conservation areas on a similar basis. While applying the methodology to different heritage ensembles, at a different scale, will necessarily need some adjustments, CVI’s key principles such as focusing on values, relying on science and engaging the local communities in the discussions around climate change should be embedded in any management process of any given heritage asset.

Integration in management process

The results of the CVI workshop, and the qualitative data that the process provided, have sharpened our focus. They support and enhance EWH’s current efforts to understand the various threats posed by climate change to ONTE.  They also identified gaps in research, policy and guidance. They will be written up into a report helping inform ONTE management partners to define sensitive adaptation solutions to preserve the OUV for future generations.

The CVI outcomes will be incorporated into a dataset of evidence of future climate change impacts on and associated vulnerability of ONTE that is currently being built as part of EWH’s ongoing Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) project.

A draft climate action plan covering ONTE will be informed as part of the CCRA project, discussed with ONTE management partners to inform policies, and then incorporated into the review of ONTE Management Plan process. Additionally, this climate action plan will be used by EWH to inform the pipeline of actions and projects required to deliver its Climate Emergency strategy and support its advocacy programme for the next three years.

In short, the CVI results will allow us to help shape the next iteration of ONTE Management Plan expected in 2022 by adding a layer of understanding of the current condition of ONTE, provide baseline data to support forthcoming actions, and pull together all of these strands to ensure that the OUV and significant local values of ONTE are considered in CEC’s overall 2030 Climate Strategy consultation (currently live until 12 September 2021).

Additional benefits for the heritage sector 

More broadly, building capacity amongst the heritage sector in Scotland, the UK and internationally was a crucial aspect of the implementation of CVI in Edinburgh. Various heritage professionals attended the workshop as participant or observer with a view to applying CVI to their own World Heritage property. The outcomes from the CVI were also presented during a public event, as part of the EWH ‘in conversation’ series in June 2021.

Finally, while demonstrating that the heritage sector is critical to informing the discussion on climate change, this CVI workshop also reinforced the importance of the links between a World Heritage property and its local community.  On this basis, it has refreshed our thinking and started a conversation with ONTE’s community to discuss how we continue to ensure the WHS and its values – both the Outstanding Universal Value and other local values – are preserved for future generations through a climate change lens.

* Note on the Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) of the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage Site project

The CCRA project is supported by the Place-Based Climate Action Network and the ATLAS World Heritage project. It will understand and define the challenges to Edinburgh’s WHS posed by climate change by engaging widely with its stakeholders affected by climate change impacts to inform appropriate mitigation/adaption solutions relevant to its international and local values. An extensive bottom-up approach will be tested to identify the impacts of climate change on Edinburgh’s WHS from the point of view of its stakeholders, using various methodologies including the trial, for the first time, of the Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI) on a ‘urban’ World Heritage property. The expected outcomes include a robust dataset of stakeholders’ evidence that will inform a draft local climate action plan, a replicable and integrated approach to climate change risk assessment, learnings dissemination and new research opportunities.

Image shows a selection of the first page of the 40+ virtual attendees from across the sector, including some of the workshop leaders and facilitators.