ND-GAIN Urban Adaptation Assessment

The Urban Adaptation Assessment (UAA) is an interactive database within a visual platform to support city leaders in decisionmaking related to climate adaptation and resilience.  The tool utilizes data from over 270 cities within the United States, including all 50 states and Puerto Rico, whose populations are above 100,000. The UAA is free, open source data - in a user friendly tool to help prioritize climate strategies and mechanisms for sustained urban climate resilience. For each city, indicators of climate vulnerabilities in the built environment, and indicators of social vulnerability are established and mapped at a sub-city or census tract level. 

The UAA incorporates metrics of a city’s climate risk and readiness, historical and projected costs for each climate-related hazard, and provides estimates of the likelihood of experiencing a particular hazard and the costs associated with that outcome.   

For each city, the UAA shows a city’s level of vulnerability to climate impacts including: extreme temperatures, precipitation, flood, drought, and sea level rise hazard. The probability of these climate hazards by 2040 is reported along with risk scores that are given for every city based on established Indicators of Exposure, Sensitivity, Adaptive Capacity and Readiness.

For example, a Risk Score for Flooding is based on these Indicators of Exposure:

  • Percent of buildings in high risk floodzone
  • Percent of cars in high risk floodzone
  • Percent of population living in high risk flood zone

Readiness Scores are based on Economic, Social, and Governmental Indicators for each city.

ND-GAIN used used “optimistic” climate projections to “provide something of a vulnerability assessment under the best case scenario.” The idea is to examine city-level vulnerabilities under near-term climate conditions that cities will likely need respond to with climate adaptation strategies. 

The UAA incorporates vulnerable populations data by mapping these populations and providing the ability to overlay mapped climate impact projections. Data is available at the census tract level, which can help to identify inequalities and how risks are distributed throughout cities. Sensitivity Indicators established for each city include socioeconomic, vulnerable population, and infrastructure assets.  


Some of the Sensitivity indicators that isolate higher risk communities include:

  • Percent of households in which the only householder is over 65 and lives alone
  • Percent of the renting population that spends over 50% of income on rent
  • Percent of population under 5 years old
  • Percent of population with a disability
  • Percent of households receiving public assistance
  • Percent of households without access to a vehicle
  • Percent of households without access to a vehicle

Adaptive Capacity Indicators
are also established.  These indicators help determine levels of vulnerability, and viable adaptation strategies for an urban community. 

1. Percent of housing with heating fuel available

2. Percent of the population with health insurance

3. Number of acute care hospital beds per 1,000 residents

5. Percent land covered by tree canopy

6. Water quality enforcement (the number of fiscal quarters in which the city had a drinking water quality violation in the past 3 years)

7. Existence of drought management plan

8. Existence of water management plan

The UAA Technical Document offers rationales and calculations for all of the Exposure, Sensitivity, Adaptive Capacity, and Readiness indicators. 

Some of the comprehensive ways to utilize the UAA (as described on the website) include:

Making the Case for Where to Invest: See how a city councilor can use the UAA to study how risks are distributed, to determine if their district shows the greatest vulnerability and need for adaptation investments.

Determining the Return on Investing in Adaptive StrategiesSee how a city sustainability officer can identify which climate hazards pose the highest risk to their city, and evaluate whether adaptation strategies for that risk would be a good investment.

Bringing Future Cost Data to a Community DebateLearn how a community leader could use the UAA to explore the cost and probability of flooding, to help in advocating for effective adaptation strategies.




Publication Date: October 2018

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Resource Types:

  • Assessment
  • Indicators
  • Tool (general)


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