What is Climate Risk Screening and Disclosure?
Every year the federal government spends billions of dollars on efforts whose cost, effectiveness, and benefits are influenced by climate change in a variety of ways. Screening and disclosure of climate risks to federal policies, programs, and projects is a proactive approach to considering short- and longer-term climate-related risks and providing information necessary to manage those risks. This helps to minimize waste by ensuring that federal funds are invested wisely and that investments achieve their desired goals without undue unintended consequences for the environment, economy or society. It also increases awareness of the range of challenges and opportunities posed by climate change across sectors and geographies, increasing the capacity for climate adaptation across society.
The results of climate risk screening, like the results of other risk screening processes, provide documentation that can be used to explain decisions and indicate how risks have been avoided, minimized, or mitigated. This information can populate databases of adaptation options (e.g. CAKEx.org, Georgetown’s Adaptation Clearinghouse, Climate Resilience Toolkit, and Climate.gov) to support the development of guidance, best practices, and lessons learned.
How does climate risk screening and disclosure work?
Screening can be applied at multiple scales. It is most common at the scale of a project or action, but is just as important for ensuring the long-term success of policies and regulations. It can provide benefits across sectors including transportation, telecommunications, natural resource management, air and water quality, health care and social services, agriculture, education, and banking, to name a few.
Although climate risk screening can happen at different phases of the planning and implementation cycle, it is most effective when carried out during earlier stages. This way policies, programs, and projects are climate-informed from the start and are less likely to require expensive or time-consuming revisions or retrofits. That said, climate risk screening can also be used as a tool to prioritize programs and projects for replacement, revision, or retrofit.
Because the depth of screening should be proportional to the project or decision scale and the severity of potential climate-related impacts, many screening tools provide a tiered screening process. The first tier typically assesses the potential sensitivity of a project to broad categories of climate-related changes such as sea level rise, increased competition for water resources, or changes in species distribution. This phase determines whether there are potential climate risks, and if so, what those risks are. If climate risks are minimal, the screening is complete, no time or effort is wasted doing unnecessarily detailed analyses, and project proponents can explain why they do not need to consider climate change. If potential risks are identified, the initial evaluation indicates what information is needed for the next, more detailed level of analysis on the path to creating a more durable project or decision.
Screening can be applied to a single option or be used to decide among multiple alternatives. If a formal cost-benefit analysis is being done, climate-related risks should be incorporated into that analysis. Alternatively, the risk screening can feed into a robustness or adaptability analysis. In these analyses the focus is on the likelihood of success or failure across a range of scenarios rather than on calculating specific costs and benefits.
Screening can be used in the project design phase. Screening initial design alternatives for climate-related impacts can lead to improved designs early on. It can create a pathway for improved conversation
Most screening tools focus only on how climate change affects the performance of policies, programs, or projects being screened. More comprehensive tools also screen for how policies, programs, and projects may affect the climate vulnerability of affected communities, economies, or ecosystems, as well how climate change may alter the anticipated unintended consequences of policies, programs, and projects. They may also consider both adaptation and mitigation options.
Key design considerations
Will the screening tool focus on a single type of change, such as sea level rise? On a subset of climate changes? All climate changes? Climate changes and effects, such as changes in species distribution? Interactive effects, such as the combined effects of more extreme rainfall and more severe wildfires on runoff? Will the tool provide information or links to information sources for the assessment?
Will the tool be focused on a single sector, such as public health, or on multiple sectors? Will it focus on a single type of project or regulatory process, such as dam construction or endangered species listing, or on multiple? Will there be a core set of questions relevant to multiple sectors with additional sector-specific questions?
Will the tool aim to be usable for policies, programs, and projects regardless of location, or will it be tailored to a specific region?
Does the tool focus only on climate influences on the effectiveness of the policies, programs, or project being screened, or will it also address interactions between climate change and other effects on communities, economies, and the environment? Will it include both adaptation and mitigation concerns?
What information goes into the screening tool? Is it designed to link to pre-existing information sources, or does it require that users develop new models or gather new information? Does it require quantitative model outputs, or is information about the direction of change enough? Does information need to be spatially explicit? Can the screening incorporate traditional knowledge? Does it address multiple scenarios of change?
Is the tool structured as a spreadsheet? A narrative? Online? Does it feed easily into existing planning or decision processes? Does it facilitate the production of some sort of risk screening report or climate risk statement? Does the risk screening tool include or easily link to risk mitigation options?
How are screening results shared with stakeholders, including elected officials, community groups, affected populations, etc.?
What entity will be responsible for the development, maintenance, updating and training for the tool? Will there be technical support?
There are many examples of risk screening tools and processes. The following are a sampling reflective of a range of approaches, scopes, and scales.
- Climate Project Screening Tool: This tool helps land managers identify climate risks and develop concrete adaptation options for specific resource management actions such as meadow restoration, prescribed burns, grazing, and more. Building on interviews and workshops with practitioners, it summarizes relevant climate trends for a project’s type and location, prompts users with targeted questions, and asks users to provide a response narrative. Like the Climate Change Adaptation Certification Tool, it has check-boxes indicating whether a project should continue as is, continue with modification, or not continue.
- Comprehensive Evaluation with respect to Sea Level (CESL) tool: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed a web-based comprehensive evaluation with respect to sea level (CESL) tool that interfaces with existing Corps databases. The Corps pre-screened existing projects for potential sea level rise impacts based on their proximity to a tidally influenced water body. Those within 40 miles of such a body received an initial vulnerability assessment based on data such as sea level change trends and extreme water levels using data from multiple federal agencies. Roughly one third were deemed potentially vulnerable to sea level rise and were ranked from very high to low potential vulnerability. These projects will receive more detailed screening at a later time. The approach was designed to be transferable and has already been taken up by the Army.
- Decision Tree: This tool was designed with a focus on water infrastructure, and can only be used on projects with clear performance thresholds (e.g. water supply reliability is above a required threshold; flood risk is below a required threshold). The depth of analysis increases with each phase. At the completion of each phase, screeners either conclude that no further analysis is necessary and generate a report explaining why, or that further analysis is needed and so move to the next phase. In phase three (the deepest level of risk analysis) the tool explicitly addresses uncertainty by showing performance relative to thresholds across a range of possible futures, then using multiple information sources to evaluate the likelihood that desired thresholds will be met using current design.
- EcoAdapt Climate Change Adaptation Certification Tool: Developed to support local comprehensive planning in Washington State, this simple 3-step screening tool asks project proponents to think about the sensitivity of their project to categories of changes; suggests data on? different types of changes and asks proponents to provide a narrative description of project vulnerability to each relevant change or effect; then yields a summary sheet where a reviewing authority summarizes everything and notes conditions of approval based on the screening.
- USAID Climate Risk Screening and Management Tools: This toolbox supports both risk screening and management at the level of strategy, project, and activity design, using results of the risk assessment to guide users to possible risk management approaches. The goal is to improve effectiveness and sustainability, as well as to generate the documentation required for USAID projects. It includes a basic tool that applies across sectors, and annexes addressing sector-specific considerations for agriculture; disaster readiness; economic growth; education, social services and marginalized populations; environment and biodiversity; governance and peace and security; health; infrastructure, construction, and energy; and water supply and sanitation.