The Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI) – assessing the impacts of climate change on World Heritage

In this long read guest blog, Dr Rebecca Jones, Visiting Professor at Heriot-Watt University writes about the application of the CVI process to Scotland’s World Heritage properties and explains the challenges unique to Scotland in the case of Old and New Towns of Edinburgh, the Antonine Wall and St Kilda. She highlights the key points of the stakeholder engagement and gives a brief summary on the results and on what comes next for New Lanark and the Forth Bridge.

What is the CVI?

The Climate Vulnerability Index, or CVI for short, was developed to rapidly assess the risks of climate change to World Heritage globally. Using approaches from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) it differs from other risk assessments in that it also assesses the Community Vulnerability of the World Heritage property alongside vulnerability of the site’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV – the reason for the property’s inscription on UNESCO’s World Heritage list).

Designed to be rapid, systematic and repeatable for all types of cultural and natural heritage, it is also flexible to meet the needs of a diverse set of stakeholders. The key mantra behind the CVI is that it is values based, science-driven and community-focused, enabling wide applicability.

Why use it in Scotland?

Early in 2019, thanks to the work of Professor Jane Downes (University of the Highlands & Islands (UHI) Archaeology Institute) who was a member of the International Council on Monument and Sites (ICOMOS) Climate Change and Heritage Working Group ] , the suggestion was made that the Heart of Neolithic Orkney (HONO) World Heritage property be used as a trial for a new Climate Vulnerability assessment.
The CVI had first been trialled at the natural World Heritage property of Shark Bay in Western Australia and ICOMOS were looking for a cultural World Heritage pilot. Orkney fitted the bill very well in terms of being cultural but also known to be vulnerable to the effects of climate change and being in a completely different part of the world to Shark Bay. The developers of the CVI – Dr Scott Heron and Dr Jon Day from James Cook University (JCU) in Townsville, Queensland – together with Adam Markham from the Union of Concerned Scientists, approached Historic Environment Scotland (HES) and other partners with a view to trialling it in Scotland. This was agreed and a Steering Group was set up, regularly meeting on Zoom (before it became a global necessity).

The workshop for HONO took place in April 2019 as a partnership between HES, UHI, Orkney Islands Council, ICOMOS, the Union of Concerned Scientists and James Cook University. Over three days, we had an excellent mix of over 30 stakeholders with a wide range of expertise including archaeology, planning, science, climate, site management, renewable energy and tourism, with over half based on Orkney itself but also with international representation from Ireland, Norway, Australia and the US.

The workshop also included a half-day visit to the four sites which make up the HONO World Heritage property, which proved a useful opportunity for the delegates to discuss key challenges on site, as well as providing filming opportunities for Scottish news coverage.

Dr Scott Heron of James Cook University being interviewed by Scottish TV at the Ring of Brodgar on Orkney (© Rebecca Jones)

The methodology of the CVI is to get the participants to select the three key climate drivers that present the greatest threat to the site, consider a timescale (2050 was chosen) and consider the key values of the property as defined in its statement of OUV. For HONO, the workshop participants determined that the OUV vulnerability of the property was in the highest category (High) but the community vulnerability was in the middle category (Moderate), acknowledging the high level of adaptive capacity within the community. Compounding factors such as volume tourism add extra cumulative impact to the pressures of climate change.

Cover of CVI report for the Heart of Neolithic Orkney (© Historic Environment Scotland)

One key output of the workshop was the production of a report which was then presented by ICOMOS to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee in Baku, Azerbaijan, in July 2019. But additional outputs included the increased awareness of the threats of the climate emergency and a discussion about actions as a result.

The pilot on Orkney was deemed to be a success, and the CVI has gone on to being applied to several other properties including the Wadden Sea World Heritage property (Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands), two properties in Africa (Sukur Cultural Landscape in Nigeria and the Ruins of Kilwa Kisiwani and the Ruins of Songo Mnara, Tanzania), the Aldabra Atoll in the Seychelles and a first nations property in Australia. (see more:

Diversity of Scotland’s World Heritage

Having applied the CVI to Orkney, we recognised that it would be valuable to also apply it to the range of properties inscribed in Scotland. In order to take this idea further, our partnership between HES and James Cook University applied to the Royal Society of Edinburgh for a Research Network Grant which was successfully awarded for 2021-23. Scotland currently has six diverse World Heritage properties (with a seventh in application – the Flow Country in Caithness and Sutherland). These are as follows:

  • The Heart of Neolithic Orkney
  • The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh
  • The Frontiers of the Roman Empire: the Antonine Wall
  • St Kilda
  • New Lanark
  • The Forth Bridge

Between them, the sites represent a diverse range of criteria for inscription, different locations, populations, owners, managers and stakeholders. The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh, an urban capital city; the Antonine Wall, a Roman earthwork (with elements in stone) running through central Scotland, is part of a transboundary World Heritage property; the remote islands of St Kilda are the UK’s only mixed property, inscribed both for cultural and natural criteria; New Lanark is a model industrial village in Clydesdale; and the Forth Bridge is inscribed as a masterpiece of engineering.
As a result of the research network grant, we decided to prioritise Edinburgh, the Antonine Wall and St Kilda for the next phase of CVI assessments as each would represent a new challenge for the methodology.


The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh (ONTE) was selected first as the timing worked well with the development of the next Management Plan for the site as well as a Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA) project being undertaken by Edinburgh World Heritage. It would also represent the first application of the CVI to an urban World Heritage property. Due to continued Covid restrictions, the workshop was planned online over five mornings (evenings in Queensland) in May-June 2021. Over 40 people gave up their time to contribute to the workshop representing a wide range of expertise including local community council members, tourism, business, climate, built heritage (including BEFS), planning, archaeology, academia and representatives from the three key partner organisations managing the World Heritage property (the City of Edinburgh Council, Edinburgh World Heritage and HES), who formed a steering group for the project. (Also see previous BEFS Blog Climate Vulnerability Index – implementation in an urban setting.)

The participants determined that the vulnerability of ONTE to the impacts of climate change was in the middle category (Moderate) and that of the local community also in the category of Moderate, recognising the level of adaptive capacity of the community. The results have fed into the new Management Plan and led to additional research on the flood mapping of the property. The final report of the ONTE CVI has just been published.

Cover of CVI report for the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh (© Historic Environment Scotland)

The Frontiers of the Roman Empire: the Antonine Wall

The Antonine Wall represents the only transboundary property in Scotland with two partners: Hadrian’s Wall in England and the Upper German-Raetian Limes in Germany. It runs for some 40 miles through five local authority areas in central Scotland and comprises an earthwork rampart on a stone base, a deep wide ditch to the north and numerous forts, fortlets and other structures attached to its rear.
Whilst the CVI had been previously applied to a transboundary property (the Wadden Sea in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands), that site was a broadly contiguous natural property and the Antonine Wall represented the first application of the CVI to a component part of a transboundary World Heritage property. The challenges of this were readily apparent in the pre-workshop tasks of agreeing the key values from a Statement of OUV which covered three different properties.
As with ONTE, the workshop was held online in the mornings (in February 2022) but spread over six mornings this time, recognising the complexity of undertaking the assessments of community vulnerability only over two mornings and learning lessons from ONTE – so this was extended to three.

The participants determined that the vulnerability of the Antonine Wall to the impacts of climate change was in the highest category (High) and that of the local community in the middle category (Moderate). The results will feed into the forthcoming Management Plan and the final report of the workshop has just been published.

Cover of CVI report for the Antonine Wall (© Historic Environment Scotland)

The challenges of St Kilda

The fourth property in Scotland to benefit from the CVI process was the archipelago of St Kilda, the UK’s only dual World Heritage property, inscribed for both cultural and natural significance and managed by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS). This was yet another first for the CVI process: the first time it had been applied to a mixed / dual property. Key values for St Kilda identified were its scenery and landscape, seabird population, its genetic interest and rarity, the marine environment and its relic cultural landscape. Its remoteness, lying over 40 miles west of the Outer Hebrides, presents numerous management challenges and the NTS coordinate and manage a series of relationships to ensure the appropriate conservation and management of the islands.

The lifting of Covid restrictions meant that Dr Scott Heron and Dr Jon Day were able to travel over from Queensland on this occasion and the weather was good enough in September 2022 for us to take a day boat out to the islands– being able to see a property in person provides valuable insights which were brought to the workshop.

Visit to St Kilda in September 2022, from left: Jon Day, Alice Lyall, Rebecca Jones, Scott Heron and Clare Henderson (the NTS St Kilda Archaeologist) (© Rebecca Jones)

We were also fortunate to be able to host the workshop in the newly opened Cnoc Soilleir on South Uist with a hybrid format, enabling some participants to attend in person and most others online (including the NTS’s three St Kilda Rangers who logged in from St Kilda). The excellent facilities in Cnoc Soilleir meant that this ran smoothly over three full days.

The participants determined that the vulnerability of St Kilda to the impacts of climate change was in the middle category (Moderate) and that of the local community was in the lowest (Low). The new Management Plan for St Kilda had been completed prior to the workshop, but the results will feed into ongoing management and research.

A view of Village Bay on Hirta, St Kilda (© Rebecca Jones)

Stakeholder engagement

The format of the workshop, particularly now we have moved to online / hybrid options, enables a wide range of participants, but we recognise that it is a time commitment and are extremely grateful to all our workshop contributors. In addition, we have been keen to inform the wider local community of the discussions and results. Following the final day of the St Kilda workshop, we held an open evening of presentations, chaired by Dr Rebecca Rennell of UHI Outer Hebrides, where Dr Rebecca Jones (formerly HES), Susan Bain (NTS) and Dr Scott Heron (JCU) discussed the results. Despite its late advertisement, we were impressed that over 20 members of the local community turned out including two local councillors.

Audience for the open evening of presentations at Cnoc Soilleir on South Uist (© Rebecca Jones)

For ONTE, Nick Hotham of Edinburgh World Heritage (EWH) hosted an online conversation in late June 2021 to discuss the results of the workshop, together with Dr Scott Heron (JCU), Dr Rebecca Jones, David Harkin (HES), Yann Grandgirard (EWH) and Jenny Bruce (ONTE coordinator). The recording is available to view online:

The results

Whilst all four workshops have demonstrated the vulnerability of Scotland’s World Heritage properties to the impacts of climate change, a major bonus of the process has been the way it has acted as a catalyst for wider discussions about climate change and sustainable adaptation. For the in person workshops, there was a noticeable buzz in the room and climate change formed the main discussion item in the breaks as well as in the sessions. They brought together a range of stakeholders who together have identified areas for future collaboration and research, some of which have already been put into practice. All four workshops invited current students and recent graduates to participate and be note-takers for the plenary and small group sessions. We are grateful to all for the work that they put in and hope that they found it a useful experience which they will develop in their future careers.

It is unsurprising in Scotland that all four workshops identified the issues of rainfall (precipitation) as a key stressor, combined with other storm, temperature and sea (levels and currents) stressors. (For more see the Scotland’s World Heritage and Climate Change overview.)

Key climate stressors selected for each of the four properties and the assessment of the OUV and Community vulnerability on a traffic-light scale (low/Moderate/High) (© Historic Environment Scotland)

An additional bonus of the research network funding from the Royal Society of Edinburgh was that the opportunity was taken in March 2022, whilst Dr Scott Heron and Dr Jon Day were en route to Norway, to visit the Flow Country and conduct a snapshot CVI for the World Heritage nomination of that property (which was submitted by the UK government to UNESCO in January 2023).

Snapshot CVI workshop for the Flow Country in March 2022, from left: Scott Heron, Steven Andrews, Cara Donald and Jon Day (© Rebecca Jones)

What next?

The workshops themselves were really the start of a process which will inform the future management of these properties as well as help identify research priorities. It is through recognising the likely threats and impacts of climate change that we can consider what our adaptation methods need to be now and in the future.
In turn, the workshops in Scotland have helped our Australian partners to continue to develop and refine the methodology. Two World Heritage properties in Scotland – New Lanark and the Forth Bridge – are yet to have the CVI process applied but that is certainly something that we should plan for in the near future.


This project has been very much a team effort which has been enabled thanks to support from the Union of Concerned Scientists and ICOMOS and the grant from the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and expertly led by Dr Scott Heron and Dr Jon Day from James Cook University. Steering Groups were set up for each project, and we would particularly like to acknowledge those members and report authors: Dr Steven Andrews, Susan Bain, Jenny Bruce, Dr Mairi Davies, Prof Jane Downes, Julie Gibson, Yann Grandgirard, David Harkin, Molly Harkins, Dr Ewan Hyslop, Alice Lyall, Riona McMorrow, Adam Markham and Kirstie Wright.

In addition to the above:

  • Our breakout group leaders: Dr Lisa Brown, Dr Emily Gal, Dr Kevin Grant, Dr Rebecca Rennell, Stefan Sagrott and Dr Lyn Wilson
  • Additional presenters at the workshops and pre-workshops: Dr Hazel Blake, Dr Brenda Ekwurzel, Dr Joe Hagg, Andrew Potts, Dr Alistair Rennie, Dr Tanja Romankiewicz and Dr Ben Russell
  • Our note takers: Amy Baker, Aura Bockute, Naomi Bouche, Alanis Carag Buhat, Max Carnie, Euan Cohen, Elizabeth Gallagher, Alex Hiscock, Roland Láposi, Mairi MacLean, Francesca Morri, Rachel Nicholson, Shane O’Neill, Diya Pavithran, Marion Ratier, Farrah Skimani, Craig Stanford and Chujun Yan
  • Our colleagues who supported the workshops and reports: Chloe Ames, Alistair Burns, Rory Cameron, Max Carnie, Fin Cunningham, Mike Elliot, Nick Hotham, Scott Johnson, Riccardo Losciale, Laura Mackenzie, Mairi Mackenzie, Sarah Malikov, Michelle Moore, Claire Mullaney, Sean Page, Frank Thomas, Taruna Venkatachalam and Patricia Weeks

And all our participants who gave up their valuable time and expertise.


The reports are available through the links but if you need a quick bib ref guide it is here:

Bruce, J, Grandgirard, Y, Day, JC, Harkin, D, Jones, RH, Davies, M, Hyslop, E and Heron, SF (2023) Climate Vulnerability Index Assessment for the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage property. Historic Environment Scotland, Edinburgh and Climate Vulnerability Index, Townsville

Day, J C, Heron, S F, Markham, A, Downes, J, Gibson, J, Hyslop, E, Jones, R H, Lyall, A (2019) Climate Risk Assessment for Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage property: An application of the Climate Vulnerability Index. Historic Environment Scotland, Edinburgh

Jones RH, Day JC, McMorrow R, Harkin D, Harkins M, Davies M, Hyslop E and Heron SF (2023) Scotland’s World Heritage and Climate Change. Historic Environment Scotland, Edinburgh

Jones RH, Day JC, McMorrow R, Harkin D, Harkins M, Davies M, Hyslop E and Heron SF (2023) Climate Vulnerability Index Assessment for the Antonine Wall component of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire World Heritage property. Historic Environment Scotland, Edinburgh and Climate Vulnerability Index, Townsville