Assessment of relative vulnerability to climate change and its effects
Climate change vulnerability (or climate vulnerability or climate risk vulnerability) is a concept that describes how strongly people or ecosystems are likely to be affected by climate change. It is defined as the "propensity or predisposition to be adversely affected" by climate change. It can apply to humans and also to natural systems (or ecosystems).: 12 Related concepts include climate sensitivity and the ability, or lack thereof, to cope and adapt.: 5 Vulnerability is a component of climate risk. Vulnerability differs within communities and across societies, regions, and countries, and can increase or decrease over time.: 12
Vulnerability of people and ecosystems with regards to climate change effects is driven by certain unsustainable development patterns such as "unsustainable ocean and land use, inequity, marginalization, historical and ongoing patterns of inequity such as colonialism, and governance".: 12 Therefore, vulnerability is higher in some locations than in others. Certain aspects within a region increase vulnerability, for example poverty, bad governance and violent conflict. Some types of livelihoods are regarded as particularly climate-sensitive, resulting in a higher level of climate change vulnerability. These include for example smallholder farmers, pastoralists and fishing communities.: 12
Vulnerability can be grouped into two overlapping categories: These are economic vulnerability, based on socioeconomic factors, and geographic vulnerability. People who are more vulnerable than others include for example people with low incomes, indigenous peoples, women, children, the elderly.
There are several tools available to assess climate vulnerability. Because climate vulnerability disproportionally affects low-income countries, climate vulnerability has become an important tool in international negotiations about climate change adaptation, climate finance and other international policy making activities.
Climate change vulnerability is defined as the "propensity or predisposition to be adversely affected" by climate change. It can apply to humans but also to natural systems (ecosystems), and both are interdependent.: 12 Vulnerability is a component of climate risk. Vulnerability will be higher if the capacity to cope and adapt is low.: 5
Climate vulnerability can include a wide variety of different meanings, situations, and contexts in climate change research, but has been a central concept in academic research since 2005. The concept was defined in the third IPCC report in 2007 as "the degree to which a system is susceptible to, and unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes".: 89 The IPCC Sixth Assessment Report in 2022 stated that "approaches to analysing and assessing vulnerability have evolved since previous IPCC assessments".: 5
It has been estimated in 2021 that "approximately 3.3 to 3.6 billion people live in contexts that are highly vulnerable to climate change".: 12
The vulnerability of ecosystems and people to climate change is not the same everywhere: there are marked differences among and within regions.: 12 Vulnerability can also increase or decrease over time.: 5 See regions that are particularly vulnerable below.
Vulnerability can be grouped into two overlapping categories: economic vulnerability, based on socioeconomic factors, and geographic vulnerability. Neither are mutually exclusive.
At its basic level, a community that is economically vulnerable is one that is ill-prepared for the effects of climate change because it lacks the needed financial resources. Preparing a climate resilient society will require huge[quantify] investments in infrastructure, city planning, engineering sustainable energy sources, and preparedness systems.[clarification needed] From a global perspective, it is more likely that people living at or below poverty will be affected the most by climate change and are thus the most vulnerable, because they will have the least amount of resource dollars to invest in resiliency infrastructure. They will also have the least amount of resource dollars for cleanup efforts after more frequently occurring natural climate change related disasters.
Vulnerability of ecosystems and people to climate change is driven by certain unsustainable development patterns such as "unsustainable ocean and land use, inequity, marginalization, historical and ongoing patterns of inequity such as colonialism, and governance".: 12 Therefore, vulnerability is higher in some locations than in others. Certain aspects within a region increase vulnerability, for example poverty, governance challenges and violent conflict. Some types of livelihoods are regarded as particularly climate-sensitive, resulting in a higher level of climate change vulnerability. These include for example smallholder farmers, pastoralists and fishing communities.: 12
Societal vulnerability to climate change is largely dependent on development status.: 336 Developing countries lack the necessary financial resources to relocate those living in low-lying coastal zones, making them more vulnerable to climate change than developed countries.: 317
A second definition of vulnerability relates to geographic vulnerability. The most geographically vulnerable locations to climate change are those that will be impacted by side effects of natural hazards, such as rising sea levels and by dramatic changes in ecosystem services, including access to food. Island nations are usually noted as more vulnerable but communities that rely heavily on a sustenance based lifestyle are also at greater risk.
Vulnerable communities tend to have one or more of these characteristics: food insecure, water is scarce, delicate marine ecosystem, fish dependent, small island community.
Around the world, climate change affects rural communities that heavily depend on their agriculture and natural resources for their livelihood. Increased frequency and severity of climate events disproportionately affects women, rural, dryland, and island communities. This leads to more drastic changes in their lifestyles and forces them to adapt to this change. It is becoming more important for local and government agencies to create strategies to react to change and adapt infrastructure to meet the needs of those impacted. Various organizations work to create adaptation, mitigation, and resilience plans that will help rural and at risk communities around the world that depend on the earth's resources to survive.
All regions of the world are vulnerable to climate change but to a different degree. With high confidence, researchers concluded in 2001 that developing countries would tend to be more vulnerable to climate change than developed countries.: 957–958 For example, Africa's major economic sectors are vulnerable to climate variability.: 435 Latin America's vulnerability is considered to be high.: 697 In Australia and New Zealand, some indigenous communities were judged to have a higher level of vulnerability and low adaptive capacity.: 509 Small island Developing States are particularly vulnerable to climate change.: 689 Partly this was attributed to their low adaptive capacity and the high costs of adaptation in proportion to their GDP.
The Arctic is extremely vulnerable to climate change. It is predicted that there will be major ecological, sociological, and economic impacts in the region.: 804–805
In comparison, the climate vulnerability of Europe is lower than in developing countries. This was attributed to Europe's high GNP, stable growth, stable population, and well-developed political, institutional, and technological support systems.: 643
Climate Vulnerable Forum
The Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) is a global partnership of countries that are disproportionately affected by the consequences of climate change. The forum addresses the negative effects of climate change as a result of heightened socioeconomic and environmental vulnerabilities. These countries actively seek a firm and urgent resolution to the current intensification of climate change, domestically and internationally. The CVF was formed to increase the accountability of industrialized nations for the consequences of global climate change. It also aims to exert additional pressure for action to tackle the challenge, which includes the local action by countries considered susceptible. Political leaders involved in this partnership are "using their status as those most vulnerable to climate change to punch far above their weight at the negotiating table". The governments which founded the CVF agree to national commitments to pursue low-carbon development and carbon neutrality.
People who are more vulnerable
People who are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than others include for example people with low incomes, indigenous peoples, women, children, the elderly. More specifically, when looking at the effects of climate change on human health, a report published in The Lancet found that the greatest impact tends to fall on the most vulnerable people such as the poor, women, children, the elderly, people with pre-existing health concerns, other minorities and outdoor workers.: 13
Climate change does not impact people within communities in the same way. Vulnerable groups such as women, the elderly, religious minorities and refugees may be more impacted by climate change than others.
People living in poverty: Climate change disproportionally affects poor people in low-income communities and developing countries around the world. Those in poverty have a higher chance of experiencing the ill-effects of climate change, due to their increased exposure and vulnerability. A 2020 World Bank paper estimated that between 32 million to 132 million additional people will be pushed into extreme poverty by 2030 due to climate change.
Women: Climate change increases gender inequality, reduces women's ability to be financially independent, and has an overall negative impact on the social and political rights of women, especially in economies that are heavily based on agriculture.
Indigenous peoples: Indigenous communities tend to rely more on the environment for food and other necessities, which makes them more vulnerable to disturbances in ecosystems. Indigenous communities across the globe generally have economic disadvantages that are not as prevalent in non-indigenous communities, due to the oppression they have experienced. These disadvantages include less access to education and jobs and higher rates of poverty, which add to their vulnerability to climate change.
Children: The Lancet review on health and climate change lists children among the worst-affected by global warming. Children are 14–44 percent more likely to die from environmental factors.
Vulnerability can be reduced through climate change adaptation measures.: 5 For this reason, vulnerability is often framed in dialogue with climate change adaptation. Furthermore, measures that reduce poverty, gender inequality, bad governance and violent conflict would also reduce vulnerability. And finally, vulnerability would be reduced for everyone if decisive action on climate change was taken (climate change mitigation) so that the effects of climate change are less severe.
Climate change adaptation is the process of adjusting to the effects of climate change. These can be both current or expected impacts. Adaptation aims to moderate or avoid harm for people. It also aims to exploit opportunities. Humans may also intervene to help adjustment for natural systems. There are many adaptation strategies or options.They can help manage impacts and risks to people and nature. We can classify adaptation actions in four ways. These are infrastructural and technological; institutional; behavioural and cultural; and nature-based options.: fig. 16.5
Climate resilience is defined as the "capacity of social, economic and ecosystems to cope with a hazardous event or trend or disturbance".: 7 This is done by "responding or reorganising in ways that maintain their essential function, identity and structure (as well as biodiversity in case of ecosystems) while also maintaining the capacity for adaptation, learning and transformation".: 7 The key focus of increasing climate resilience is to reduce the climate vulnerability that communities, states, and countries currently have with regards to the many effects of climate change. Efforts to build climate resilience encompass social, economic, technological, and political strategies that are being implemented at all scales of society. From local community action to global treaties, addressing climate resilience is becoming a priority, although it could be argued that a significant amount of the theory has yet to be translated into practice.
Equity is another essential component of vulnerability and is closely tied to issues of environmental justice and climate justice. As the most vulnerable communities are likely to be the most heavily impacted, a climate justice movement is coalescing in response. There are many aspects of climate justice that relate to vulnerability and resiliency. The frameworks are similar to other types of justice movements and include contractarianism which attempts to allocate the most benefits for the poor, utilitarianism which seeks to find the most benefits for the most people, egalitarianism which attempts to reduce inequality, and libertarianism which emphasizes a fair share of burden but also individual freedoms.
Vulnerability assessment is important because it provides information that can be used to develop management actions in response to climate change. Climate vulnerability can be analyzed or evaluated using a number of processes or tools, depending mainly on the scale of assessment (see below).
Climate change vulnerability assessments are available at all scales. Global vulnerability assessments are based on spatial mapping using aggregated data for the regional or national level.: 1195–1199 Assessments are also done at sub-national and sectoral level, and also increasingly for cities on an urban district or neighbourhood scale. Vulnerability assessment is also done for local communities to evaluate where and how communities and livelihoods are vulnerable to climate change. Studies can vary widely in scope and scale-- for example the World Bank and Ministry of Economy of Fiji commissioned a report for the whole country in 2017-18 while the Rochester, New York commissioned a much more local report for the city in 2018. Or, for example, NOAA Fisheries commissioned Climate Vulnerability assessments for marine fishers in the United States. In some cases vulnerability assessment is done in advance of preparing local climate adaptation plans or risk management plans.
While the macro-scale vulnerability assessment often uses indices, modelling and participatory approaches are also used for which there are a range of tools (see below).
Indicators and indices
Global indices for climate change vulnerability include the ND-GAIN Country Index, which measures national climate vulnerability globally, INFORM Risk Index and the WorldRiskIndex, which include social vulnerability indices. Indicator approaches are also used at national and sub-national levels. They use a composite index of many individual quantifiable indicators. To generate the index value or 'score', most often a simple average is calculated across a set of standardized values. However, sometimes weighting is done according what are thought to be the most important determinants of vulnerability.
Climate vulnerability tracking starts identifying the relevant information, preferably open access, produced by state or international bodies at the scale of interest. Then a further effort to make the vulnerability information freely accessible to all development actors is required. Vulnerability tracking has many applications. It constitutes an indicator for the monitoring and evaluation of programs and projects for resilience and adaptation to climate change. Vulnerability tracking is also a decision making tool in regional and national adaptation policies.
Tools for vulnerability assessment
Similarly as for climate risk assessment, tools for vulnerability assessment vary depending on the sector, the scale at which the study is being carried out, and the entity or system which is thought to vulnerable. Modelling and other participatory tools include WEAP for understanding water resource vulnerabilities and assessing adaptation options. The Vulnerability Sourcebook is a guide for practical and scientific knowledge on vulnerability assessment. Climate vulnerability mapping is also used to understand which areas are the most geographically vulnerable. A systematic review published in 2019 found 84 studies focused on the use of mapping to communicate and do analysis of climate vulnerability.
^Rayner, S. and E.L. Malone (2001). "Climate Change, Poverty, and Intragernerational Equity: The National Leve". International Journal of Global Environmental Issues. 1. I (2): 175–202. doi:10.1504/IJGENVI.2001.000977.
^Goli, Imaneh; Omidi Najafabadi, Maryam; Lashgarara, Farhad (9 March 2020). "Where are We Standing and Where Should We Be Going? Gender and Climate Change Adaptation Behavior". Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics. 33 (2): 187–218. doi:10.1007/s10806-020-09822-3. S2CID216404045.
^Pörtner, H.-O.; Roberts, D.C.; Adams, H.; Adelekan, I.; et al. "Technical Summary"(PDF). Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. The Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press. p. 47.
^Bartlett, Sheridan (2008). "Climate change and urban children: Impacts and implications for adaptation in low- and middle-income countries". Environment and Urbanization. 20 (2): 501–519. doi:10.1177/0956247808096125. S2CID55860349.