Key Terms

Adaptive capacity: The ability of systems, institutions, humans, and other organisms to adjust to potential damage, to take advantage of opportunities, or to respond to consequences of hazards.1
Climate hazard: In this tool, a climate hazard is a physical process or event (hydro-meteorological or oceanographic variables or phenomena) that can harm human health, livelihoods, or natural resources. (A hazard is not simply the potential for adverse effects).2
Exposure: The presence of people, livelihoods, species or ecosystems, environmental services and resources, infrastructure, or economic, social, or cultural assets in places that could be adversely affected by a hazard.1
Geophysical hazard: Natural land processes and events with the potential to cause harm to human health, livelihoods, or systems, or natural resources. In this tool, "hazard" refers to the physical event itself, not its potential for adverse effects.2
Potential impact: The effects on human or natural assets and systems as a result of exposure and sensitivity, either beneficial or harmful.
Risk: The potential for consequences where something of human value (including humans themselves) is at stake and where the outcome is uncertain.1 This tool defines climate risk as a combination of hazard exposure, sensitivity to impact, and adaptive capacity. It does not define risk as the product of the probability of hazardous events and the consequences of those events, as is frequently used.
Sensitivity: The degree to which a system or species is affected, either adversely or beneficially, by climate variability or change or geophysical hazards.1
1 Definitions adapted from IPCC, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2014) (
2 N. Brooks, “Vulnerability, Risk and Adaptation: A Conceptual Framework” Working Paper No. 38 (Tyndall Centre, 2003) (