ACCVI – Arctic Climate Change Vulnerability Index (McGill 2016-2018)



North to south, east to west, governments around the world are trying to assess their vulnerability to climatic change and extreme weather events. Assessments often take one of two forms: (1) regional and national level assessments provide coarse-grained quantitative information about large regions, which is of limited use to decision-makers in local communities; and (2) local community assessments often rely on nuanced qualitative and mixed-methods data, which can be difficult to scale-up.

With most of Canadas 60,000 Inuit living in 53 Arctic communities, relationships with the physical environment and the land are particularly strong, with many community members relying on land-based activities for their livelihood. Environmental and climatic changes such as temperatures changes, permafrost thaw, storm surges, and loss of sea ice are greatly impacting resource-dependent livelihoods.

While previous research provides a comprehensive picture of climate-related vulnerabilities among these communities, few studies have utilized an integrated framework to map and assess the totality of vulnerability to natural hazards and climatic change scenarios.  To address this, we are developing an integrative, multilevel vulnerability assessment in the Canadian Arctic that can support integrated local-to-regional planning.


We present a first step in developing a Canadian Arctic Vulnerability Index, to assess communities’ vulnerability to climatic change, including a baseline scenario and future projections. Approaches have been informed by the Brazilian National Vulnerability Assessment, Arctic vulnerability scholarship, and community input. Specifically, we plan to assess 1) what indicators are available at a local, regional and federal level in the Arctic, 2) their feasibility for inclusion in the model, and 3) their importance for local communities. Our work will use downscaled weather data (exposure analysis) from Global Climate Models to regional levels and use ground stations. These datasets will measure local changes on wind speed and direction, temperature, precipitation, permafrost thaw, sea ice extent, storm surge and extreme indices.

Other analysis indicators (sensitivity and adaptation capacity) include, but are not limited to: income, access to technologies such as snow machines and GPS, housing quality and quantity, education, mental health, wider economic activities and opportunities, and built infrastructure. We also consider intercommunity collaborations, search and rescue activities, and collaborations among and between local, provincial, and federal agencies as well as between public and private sectors. Our aim is to assess present and future vulnerabilities to climate changes in an integrative way that can assist local, province/territorial, and federal policies and decision making.

For the proposed vulnerability assessment, we will use the IPCC AR4 Report framework, which considers vulnerability to be a composite function of exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. In general, indices are more robust when parameterized for smaller areas; thus, compiling a unique index for a large area like the Canadian Arctic is a complex task. Some limitations will be inevitable due to the multiple stressors occurring in the area, and the responses communities are able to give in terms of exposure and sensitivity. These relations among vulnerability variables will have to be expressed by a mix of qualitative and quantitative indicators, which can be challenging to represent in their full complexity. In order to select the “best” indicators, we are planning to work with communities and regional stakeholders (through focus groups).

Phase I – Multiplex system network analysis


Vulnerability to climate change is a product of biophysical and social dynamics. Assessments of community or regional vulnerability, however, often focus on quantitative infrastructure and environmental assessments, or qualitative assessments of a community’s social dynamics and livelihood activities. A dearth of integrated quantitative assessments is a major barrier for decision-makers who require quantitative outputs and indicators, which can measure where vulnerability is most severe and can be linked to climate projections. In our framework, we address such gaps by illustrating which variables or indicators should be used and how they can be calibrated to represent vulnerability of Inuit communities in a climate-linked index in the Canadian Arctic. We start by developing a systematic literature review of community-based vulnerability studies assessing relationships among 58 social and biophysical variables. We then use a multiplex network analysis to determine how social and environmental variables interact among and within the key component of vulnerability: exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. Thus, we examine vulnerability to climate change finding several structurally important variables that interact across the three dimensions of vulnerability; these include the cost of living, poverty, and income. We also highlight those physical variables, such as extreme weather events, floods, and storm surges are highly important to exposure. This method is transferable as an integrative means of understanding not only the direct causes of vulnerability but also relations that are less tangible. The approach of multiplex network analysis may be a building block to the ongoing development of vulnerability indices within the human dimensions of climate change field.

Phase II – ACCVI Index


Transportation systems across the Arctic are increasingly being affected by climate change as permafrost continues to change, ice and weather patterns shift, and extreme weather events increase. Specific vulnerabilities facing transport systems and adaptation opportunities are not well understood, with limited research quantifying the vulnerability of transportation systems under climate scenarios throughout the century. Drawing from approaches mapping multiplex networks of livelihood variables, we develop a unique index for Arctic transportation vulnerability which assesses transportation at a regional-community level using IPCC RCP 4.5 and 8.5 scenarios. Applying the index to the Canadian Arctic, our results demonstrate that transportation system vulnerability varies throughout the region depending on the modeled hazards (Rain, Snow, Temperature or Sea Level Rise) and the transportation infrastructure type (Airports or Ports). At present time marine infrastructure vulnerability ranks highest with summer temperatures causing most vulnerability while future scenarios indicate that aviation infrastructure vulnerability caused by snow increments intensifies the most.

  • Journal Article in press (Nature Climate Change)

ArcticNet Conference – Poster (Dec 5-9, 2016) Winnipeg, CA


ArcticNet Conference – Oral presentations Québec City (Dec 15, 2017) QC, CA

  • Debortoli, N. S., Sayles, J. S., Clark, D. G. & Ford, J. D. in International Arctic Change Conference.  26 (AC2017 Conference Program).
  • Clark, D. G., Debortoli, N. S. & Ford, J. D. in International Arctic Change Conference.  43 (AC2017 Conference Program).


  • Clark, D., Debortoli, N. S., Ford, J. D., Sayles, J. & Diaconescu, E. Arctic Climate Change Vulnerability Index (ACCVI): Northern Aviation, Shipping, and Infrastructure. 76 (Transport Canada, Montréal-QC, 2018).