U.S. Climate Vulnerability Index shows where action, resources are most urgently needed

The tool visualizes the intensity of long-term vulnerabilities and external risks to equip communities, policymakers with actionable data

October 2, 2023
Allyn West, (713) 724-1810, awest@edf.org

HOUSTON, TX – The most comprehensive screening tool to date shows where record-breaking heat, suffocating wildfire smoke and other climate risks threaten the stability of communities throughout the U.S. – and why.

Developed in partnership between Environmental Defense Fund and Texas A&M University, the U.S. Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI) combines 184 sets of publicly available data to rank more than 70,000 U.S. census tracts. To drive climate action and effective solutions, the CVI visualizes the cumulative impacts many communities are experiencing from decades of inequitable development and systemic disinvestment. 

"The Biden Administration has made a historic level of funding available to build toward climate justice and equity, but the right investments need to flow to the right places for the biggest impact," says Dr. Grace Tee Lewis, Senior Health Scientist, Environmental Defense Fund. "The CVI equips and enables communities, policymakers and organizations to proactively address vulnerabilities and enhance resilience in the face of a changing climate."

How does the CVI work? Based on the peer-reviewed journal article, Characterizing vulnerabilities to climate change across the United States, a dashboard and an interactive map of the U.S. designed by Darkhorse Analytics, the CVI allows users to search by location and view their overall climate vulnerability and the conditions that shape it – from quality of housing and access to supermarkets to proximity to toxic waste sites and number of deaths from air pollution. For example, census tracts in Houston’s Settegast community rank in the 99th percentile for overall vulnerability. The CVI shows what is driving vulnerability, including low chronic disease prevention, high exposure to harmful pollutants like soot and inadequate access to fresh, nutritious food.

According to the CVI, these are the most vulnerable counties in the U.S. (Note: This is an updated list of counties. The first list, posted on October 2, was based on ranks weighing each of the tool’s 184 indicators equally, not hierarchically, as the original research paper and dashboard do.)

  1. St. John the Baptist, Louisiana
  2. Iberville, Louisiana
  3. Dillon, South Carolina
  4. Knox, Kentucky
  5. Tangipahoa, Louisiana 
  6. St. Landry, Louisiana
  7. Acadia, Louisiana
  8. Floyd, Kentucky
  9. Talladega, Alabama
  10. Yazoo, Mississippi

“The launch of the CVI represents a significant leap forward in our understanding of the cumulative impacts of climate change,” says Dr. Weihsueh A. Chiu, Professor, Department of Veterinary Physiology & Pharmacology, Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “By offering a comprehensive framework to evaluate the multi-dimensional susceptibilities of communities to climate-related risks, this new tool provides a template for addressing local-scale climate and environmental justice globally.”

The CVI equips and enables policymakers – and the advocates, community-based organizations, journalists and academic researchers who hold them accountable – to use data to direct action to areas of greatest need. Recent federal legislation like the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and government directives like the Justice 40 Initiative present an unprecedented opportunity to build resilience. Alongside a comprehensive list of grant funding opportunities, user-friendly tutorials and real-life examples can be found on the CVI website to show how community advocates can use data for action.

Learn more at climatevulnerabilityindex.org.

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One of the world's leading international nonprofit organizations, Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org) creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. To do so, EDF links science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships. With more than 3 million members and offices in the United States, China, Mexico, Indonesia and the European Union, EDF's scientists, economists, attorneys and policy experts are working in 28 countries to turn our solutions into action. Connect with us on X @EnvDefenseFund.

Texas A&M University is a community of scholars dedicated to solving diverse, real-world problems through determination and innovation. Texas A&M opened its doors in 1876 as the state's first public institution of higher education and is today a tier-one research institution holding the elite triple land-, sea- and space-grant designations. Research conducted at Texas A&M represented annual expenditures of more than $1 billion in fiscal year 2022. Texas A&M’s 73,000 students and over half a million former students are known for their commitment to service, as well as dedication to the university’s core values and rich traditions.

Darkhorse Analytics (darkhorseanalytics.com) is a well-known thought leader and creator in the field of data visualization. They specialize in building clear and engaging interactive data tools. Their clients include NGOs such as Opportunity Insights, Environmental Defense Fund and Wayne State University. Darkhorse Analytics works closely with their clients and often become an extension of their team, helping them achieve their goals. The primary aim of most of these tools is to have a profound and positive impact on society.