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Frequently Asked Questions

What is “climate vulnerability”?

A changing climate is worsening infectious and chronic diseases, intensifying social and economic stresses, and exacerbating the severity of extreme weather events. Some U.S. communities have — and have always had — access to resources that help them prepare for, endure, and recover from these impacts. Many, however, do not and are more vulnerable to climate impacts due to decades of racist housing and infrastructure development, unequal protection of environmental laws, labor market discrimination, and other systemic inequities. In fact, race — even more than class — is the #1 indicator for the placement of toxic facilities in the United States and African Americans are 40% more likely to live in places where extreme temperatures will result in higher mortality rates.

What is the U.S. Climate Vulnerability Index?

The CVI provides a robust, data-driven approach to understanding locally relevant determinants at a neighborhood scale. Pulling in 184 datasets to rank more than 70,000 U.S. Census tracts, this mapping tool integrates cumulative impacts that can shape a community – from quality of housing and access to supermarkets to proximity to toxic waste sites.

Is the U.S. Climate Vulnerability Index a risk assessment?

No, the CVI is not a risk assessment. It is an environmental justice screening and mapping tool that uses data to show disparities across the United States in order to pinpoint where efforts and resources could be prioritized to create climate resilience.

The CVI provides a comprehensive picture of existing conditions that, when combined, make communities vulnerable to climate threats. The CVI puts a broad range of baseline health, social, economic, environmental, infrastructure, and climate data into everyone’s hands, so communities can advocate for policies that build resilience to more intense wildfires, flooding, and heat waves anticipated to come.

The CVI does not predict the likelihood or frequency of specific disasters. The tool combines data about past events with future predictions from scientists if significant reductions in climate pollution are not made to address our warming planet. The CVI’s rankings are intended to show communities and policymakers where resources are most urgently needed – and why.

Where does the data used to create the U.S. Climate Vulnerability Index come from?

Incorporating community stakeholder input, we identified and integrated available public health, social, economic, environmental, and climate data in the United States, comprising 184 indicators to rank more than 70,000 U.S. Census tracts, to develop the CVI composed of four baseline vulnerabilities (health, social/economic, infrastructure, and environment) and three climate change risks (health, social/economic, extreme events).

Why was the U.S. Climate Vulnerability Index created?

The CVI shows how drivers of cumulative vulnerability disadvantage communities across the United States to translate lived experience and advocacy into data visualizations that bolster funding, policy, and advocacy efforts. Better understanding of the intersections between growing climate risks and pre-existing, long-term health, social, environmental, and economic conditions is critical to effectively building climate resilience for everyone and deploying targeted adaptation efforts.

How is the U.S. Climate Vulnerability Index different from other environmental justice screening and mapping tools?

To our knowledge, the CVI offers the most thorough and complete compilation of climate impacts at the census tract level, both historical and projected, direct and indirect – integrating climate change impacts with environmental, health, and socioeconomic metrics.

How can policymakers and decisionmakers use the U.S. Climate Vulnerability Index?

The Biden Administration recently made a historic level of funding available to improve equity and build resilience in vulnerable communities, including the Inflation Reduction Act, Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors and Science Act (IRA, BIL and CHIPS). But the right investments must flow to the right places for these efforts to be effective. The CVI can be instrumental in enabling policymakers to better prioritize resources and target interventions, providing a template for addressing local-scale climate and environmental justice globally.

In particular, the CVI gives planners, local government, federal agencies, non-profit organizations, research teams, and more a means to take action and define where investments are needed most to protect vulnerable communities against climate impacts, including decision-making, policy development, resource allocation, preparedness planning, and community-level environmental action planning and advocacy.

How can community members use the U.S. Climate Vulnerability Index?

The CVI provides community-based organizations access to actionable data that can help them take advantage of grant opportunities for reducing disparities in their communities and advocate for increased action and funding. Learn more by clicking on the Tutorials & Use Cases tab.

How was the U.S. Climate Vulnerability Index developed?

With support from many partners, Environmental Defense Fund and Texas A&M University developed the most thorough and complete compilation of climate impacts at the census-tract level, both historical and projected, direct and indirect – integrating the impacts with environmental, health, infrastructure, and socioeconomic metrics.

From the beginning, community leaders were included in the development of the CVI. Seeking to adopt a broad definition of vulnerability, the team took a systems-based, holistic approach that considers the cumulative impacts of both pre-existing vulnerabilities and future risks from climate change. They identified and evaluated both comprehensive and localized data nationwide. Feedback from community partners at each stage of CVI development ensured the tool included data reflecting their lived experiences, which is crucial for advocacy efforts and helps define where programs and policies can best meet existing needs and promote stronger, more resilient neighborhoods. Learn more by clicking on the Methodology tab.

Who funded this effort?

Environmental Defense Fund and Texas A&M University

What was learned from developing the U.S. Climate Vulnerability Index?

The vulnerability to and risks from climate change are highly heterogeneous across the U.S. at the census tract scale, and geospatially cluster into complementary areas with similar climate risks but differing baseline vulnerabilities. Results therefore demonstrate that not only are climate change risks both broadly and variably distributed across the U.S., but also that existing disparities are often further exacerbated by climate change.

Additionally, this extensive evaluation and collation of data sets led to an important recognition where comprehensive data are lacking, such as projected effects of climate on health, data related to tribal lands and populations, water quality, maternal and child health outcomes, and more. The CVI can highlight and elevate these gaps, leading to much-needed research in these areas.

See our published research paper, Characterizing vulnerabilities to climate change across the United States, to learn more about these findings.

How often will the U.S. Climate Vulnerability Index be updated?

The CVI will be updated on a regular basis, integrating new data sources and updating existing data sources as they are available.

That said, we are currently aware of an issue with the bridge score. The ‘Bridge Quality and Maintenance’ index under the ‘Infrastructure’ domain is calculated based on the percentage of bridges with poor condition. However, if there is no bridge in the census tract, the census tract currently receives the highest score, which should be the opposite. The CVI team is working on revising the dataset and will be updating the CVI and scores soon to reflect changes in direction of the bridge score.