A holistic approach to climate change vulnerability and adaptation assessment: Pilot study in Thailand

Submitted by Pin Pravalprukskul | published 11th Mar 2013 | last updated 5th Jan 2023


Climate change vulnerability and adaptation planning can be taken into consideration across many sectors and at different levels and scales. Different scales of planning have different contexts and may require different approaches. In a landscape context, inter-linkages between sectors within the landscape form the context of adaptation planning, as the response of any one sector may have consequences for others. Moreover, climate change is not the only change that may affect the sector; proper adaptation will have to address future socioeconomic change as well. This calls for a new foundation for climate change adaptation assessments: a holistic view of the landscape as a complex system with multiple livelihoods or sectors under multiple pressures from climate and socioeconomic changes and their consequences. This paper points out gaps in using sectoral vulnerability and adaptation assessment for landscape adaptation planning, and proposes instead an extended framework for climate change vulnerability and adaptation with a holistic view of the landscape.

A new framework for Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessments

Most assessments to date have followed a conventional sequential approach, focusing on understanding the impacts of climate change on the sector, analyzing the vulnerability of the sector, and identifying adaptation measures.

However, any landscape of substantial size, such as a province or watershed, is likely to contain complex systems, both ecologically and socio-economically. People will have different livelihoods that are affected differently by climate change, and they will respond differently. Yet the choices of one sector – or sub-region – may affect others, especially those that share the same natural resources or have strong social and economic inter-linkages. Those impacts may also be unequally distributed due to economic or geographic factors. For example, in the event of a water shortage, people upstream will be better positioned to take the water they need, leaving a smaller share for people downstream.

Moreover, society is not static. Changes in social and economic conditions may lead to shifts in a sector’s activities, change its need for particular resources or the way such resources would be utilized, and thus affect its vulnerability. This, in turn, may change the sector’s or broader society’s adaptation needs. This means that in order to provide an accurate view of the landscape in the long term, which is the time-scale of climate change, in supporting adaptation planning, a vulnerability and adaptation assessment must take a holistic view, including socioeconomic factors as well as interactions amongst sectors. The process will still begin with assessments of individual sectors, but in a critical second step, it will assemble the results of those individual assessments to create a storyline that looks at the whole landscape and its complex systems. 

The assessment process can be summarized as follows:

  1. Identify key sectors in the landscape.
  2. Analyze key climate concerns for each sector, including both the specific projected impacts, and their potential effects (e.g. decreased rainfall could be a major concern for agriculture; it could lead to lower crop yields and/or to increased irrigation costs).
  3. Analyze key socioeconomic factors that could affect each sector, and their potential impacts.
  4. Consider plausible responses each of the different sectors to the combined impacts of climate change and socioeconomic factors.
  5. Assemble the results of the sector-by-sector assessments to build one or more storylines or scenarios for the landscape as a whole, as the basis for landscape-wide adaptation planning.
  6. Looking at cross-sectoral impacts, identify adaptation pathways that minimize negative interactions.

A holistic approach to vulnerability and adaptation assessments 

Case Study

A case study of the coastal province of Krabi in Thailand is used here to illustrate how this holistic approach can be used to provide a more complete climate change vulnerability and adaptation assessment. The case study builds on a study by the Southeast Asia Regional Center of the Global Change System for Analysis, Research, and Training with the WWF Greater Mekong Programme and WWF’s Macroeconomics Programme (SEA START RC and WWF, 2008). The study assessed climate change vulnerability and its implications for economic development, and also aimed to build adaptive capacity and integrate climate responses into development. The team built scenarios of climate impacts on key economic sectors within 10 and 25 years, engaged local stakeholders, and made policy recommendations. However, the analysis was only done sectorby-sector, without exploring interactions between sectors.

Krabi is on the west coast of the Andaman Sea in the south of Thailand, about 814 km away from Bangkok. It covers a total area of 4708.5 square km and has a population of slightly below 500,000 people. Its economy relies primarily on agriculture and tourism. Oil palm and rubber, the principal crops, cover 95% of Krabi’s cultivated areas, with many smallholder farms amid the industrial plantations. Another key livelihood is inshore fishing (Krabi Provincial Hall, n.d.)