Climate Vulnerability in Greater Boston

MetroCommon 2050

The impacts of climate change are not distributed equally.

Illustrations by Peter Crowther

A group’s exposure to climate hazards, access to resources, and ability to plan for and rebuild after a climate event all factor into a group’s vulnerability to climate change.

Which populations are most vulnerable to the climate hazards that are likely to impact Metro Boston?

To answer this question, we have constructed a regional climate vulnerability index that shows which neighborhoods in Metro Boston are more vulnerable to climate hazards than others. This mapping tool – which combines sociodemographic, public health, housing, and workforce data with climate exposure data – can be used to help identify which populations should be centered in climate preparedness and resiliency work.

Vulnerability is often characterized as encompassing three dimensions.
Indicators exposure

How close is an individual or group to a hazard?



Extreme heat (land surface temp)

Flood risk (FEMA Flood Zones)

Future storm surge with 8” of sea level rise

Future storm surge with 3’5” of sea level rise

Woods Hole Group

Boston Harbor Flood Risk Model

Indicators sensitivity

The pre-existing social, economic, and political conditions that affect an individual or group’s access to resources or exposure to hazards.

Indicators that describe sensitivity can be grouped into four themes: Age; occupations highly exposed to climate hazards; health; and housing features and demographics.



Overcrowded housing units

Population in group quarters

Age 5 or below

Age 65 and up

Central air conditioning

Basements at risk of flooding

Disability prevalence

Cardiovascular disease prevalence

Asthma hospitalization rate

Diabetes prevalence

Highly exposed workers

Indicators adaptive capacity
Adaptive Capacity

The ability to get out of harm’s way, adjust to changes, or regroup and rebuild after climate events.

Indicators that describe adaptive capacity can be grouped into four themes: Information access, social networks, and mobility; financial resources; race and ethnicity; and housing demographics.

adaptive capacity
Adaptive Capacity


Renter-occupied housing units

Mobile housing units

Households w/o a vehicle

Households w/o internet access

Educational attainment

Unemployment rate

Median household income

Poverty rate

Latinx population

Black population

Asian population

Indigenous, multi or another race

Age 65 and up living alone

Single-parent families

Linguistic isolation

Population w/o health insurance

Population living in different residence

Calculating Vulnerability

Variables describing climate vulnerability were selected after an extensive literature review and conversations with internal staff and external experts. We created hazard-specific exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity indices by aggregating variables from each dimension. Then, we took the average of the three indices to produce a climate vulnerability index for each climate hazard. Using this index, we created regional maps showing which Metro Boston communities are relatively more vulnerable to extreme heat, current flood risk, and future storm surge flooding risk than others.

For a detailed explanation of the methodology used in this analysis, download the technical documentation below.

Explore the Region

triangles shaped like the MAPC region

MetroCommon 2050

MetroCommon 2050 is a two-year undertaking that involves multiple phases, topics, and ideas; scores of planners; dozens of external advisors; and hundreds of state and local officials. Most important, it involves thousands of people from all over Metro Boston. It’s a complicated project, but running it smoothly is not enough – the entire point is the result. We must end up with an actionable plan, and one that makes change for the better.

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