Elaborating a systems methodology for cascading climate change impacts and implications

MethodsX. 2020 Apr 19;7:100893. doi: 10.1016/j.mex.2020.100893. eCollection 2020.


New research is drawing attention to the potential for climate change to generate cascading impacts and implications across linked human-environment systems, requiring closer accounting of these interactions to anticipate the emergence of surprises and feedbacks. However, there is little practical guidance for those interested in characterising, identifying or assessing cascades, and few empirical examples. In this paper, we elaborate a systems-based methodology to identify and evaluate cascading climate change impacts and implications. We illustrate its application using the case of a participatory process with urban infrastructure managers, facing the legacy effects of damaging earthquakes and the prospect of future climate change. The results show the proposed approach and visualisation of cascades as causal diagrams provides a robust and flexible analytical framework. The use of systems thinking, visual aids, interactive discussion and expert elicitation generated valuable information about potential cascades, their interactions across domains of interest, and the implications for management. The process can provide a basis for further empirical application and advance methodological and conceptual development. Specifically, the systems methodology:•Identifies interdependencies and interconnections which may serve as transmission pathways for climate-related impacts;•Enhanced stakeholders' understanding of multiple causes and effects of climate change; and•Produced a useful visual aid for stakeholders to explore cascading impacts and implications, and opportunities for intervention.

Keywords: Climate change adaptation; Complex problems; Feedback; Systems thinking; Vulnerability.