Environmental Case Analysis: the Risks of Global Climate Chang

Topics: Tropical cyclone, Climate change, Climate Pages: 35 (11703 words) Published: July 22, 2013
1 Climatic Research Unit, and 2 Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global

Environment, School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, U.K. ∗ E-mail: m.kelly@uea.ac.uk

Abstract. We discuss approaches to the assessment of vulnerability to climate variability and change and attempt to clarify the relationship between the concepts of vulnerability and adaptation. In search of a robust, policy-relevant framework, we define vulnerability in terms of the capacity of individuals and social groups to respond to, that is, to cope with, recover from or adapt to, any external stress placed on their livelihoods and well-being. The approach that we develop places the social and economic well-being of society at the centre of the analysis, focussing on the socio-economic and institutional constraints that limit the capacity to respond. From this perspective, the vulnerability or security of any group is determined by resource availability and by the entitlement of individuals and groups to call on these resources. We illustrate the application of this approach through the results of field research in coastal Vietnam, highlighting shifting patterns of vulnerability to tropical storm impacts at the household- and community-level in response to the current process of economic renovation and drawing conclusions concerning means of supporting the adaptive response to climate stress. Four priorities for action are identified that would improve the situation of the most exposed members of many communities: poverty reduction; risk-spreading through income diversification; respecting common property management rights; and promoting collective security. A sustainable response, we argue, must also address the underlying causes of social vulnerability, including the inequitable distribution of resources.

1. Introduction The primary aim of this article is to examine ways of defining vulnerability to environmental stress, specifically, climate variability and change. In the context of the global warming problem, assessing vulnerability is an important component of any attempt to define the magnitude of the threat. Moreover, analysis of vulnerability provides a starting point for the determination of effective means of promoting remedial action to limit impacts by supporting coping strategies and facilitating adaptation. We focus on the vulnerability of human individuals and communities to climate stress. A secondary aim of this article is to clarify the links between vulnerability and adaptation (cf. Burton, 1997). Adaptation is a topic of considerable policy relevance and concern (Smith et al., 1996) but, to date, has not been effectively assessed (Smithers and Smit, 1997; Tol et al., 1998). Climate impact studies have tended to focus on direct physical, chemical or biological effects, yet a Climatic Change 47: 325–352, 2000. © 2000 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.



full assessment of consequences for human well-being clearly requires evaluation of the manner in which society is likely to respond through the deployment of coping strategies and measures which promote recovery and, in the longer-term, adaptation. We begin our discussion with a review of definitions of vulnerability, drawing on the food security and natural hazards literature as well as previous climate studies. From this review, a working definition of vulnerability is derived that emphasises the social dimension neglected in previous studies and is of direct relevance to the development of policy and practice. We then draw out various implications of this definition and discuss how it might be operationalised. We argue that any analysis of vulnerability must consider the ‘architecture of entitlements’, the social, economic and institutional factors that...

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