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Vulnerability to Environmental Changes Climate change as an example Lecture 2008-01-09 Louise Simonsson Centre for Climate and Policy Research.

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Presentation on theme: "Vulnerability to Environmental Changes Climate change as an example Lecture 2008-01-09 Louise Simonsson Centre for Climate and Policy Research."— Presentation transcript:

1 Vulnerability to Environmental Changes Climate change as an example Lecture 2008-01-09
Louise Simonsson Centre for Climate and Policy Research


3 Environmental changes
Most environments are in a constant state of flux because of natural causes and human modifications for food production, settlements, infrastructure, or to produce and trade goods. Most intentional changes are designed to control the environment for human benefit. Such changes may also unintentionally alter the quality or quantity of environmental resources and be difficult to cope with.

4 Consequences of environmental change are not uniform
Differ for different People Places Times Responses to the risks will also differ


6 Who is concerned with vulnerability?
The term ‘vulnerability’ is used in many different ways by various research communities, such as those concerned with secure livelihoods, food security, natural hazards, disaster risk management, public health, global environmental change, and climate change

7 What do we mean by vulnerability?
Social scientists and climate scientists often mean different things when they use the term “vulnerability”. Social scientists tend to view vulnerability as representing the set of socio-economic factors that determine people’s ability to cope with stress or change, while Climate scientists often view vulnerability in terms of the likelihood of occurrence and impacts of weather and climate related events

8 IPCC’s definition of vulnerability
“The degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change” and seen as a function of “the character, magnitude, and rate of climate variation to which a system is exposed, its sensitivity and adaptive capacity” (IPCC 2001, p 995) Vulnerability, according to this school, includes an external dimension, which is represented here by the ‘exposure' of a system to climate variations, as well as an internal dimension, which comprises its ‘sensitivity' and its `adaptive capacity' to these stressors.

9 Vulnerability assessment as the starting point
Identifies likely sensitivities in terms of limited capacity to respond to stress Starting point for any impact analysis Vulnerability = the capacity to adapt Vulnerability assessments is then not dependent on predictions of adaptive behaviour

10 Vulnerability assessment as the focal point (Food insecurity as example)
Vulnerability is an overarching concept and provides a policy-relevant framework aimed at improving the capacity of people to respond to stress Vulnerability = capacity largely determined by socio-economic structure and property relations Usually clearly separate the biophysical and the social dimensions The human dimension: ‘the capacity to anticipate, cope with , resist, and recover from the impact of a natural hazard’ The biophysical component: ‘the exposure or measure of the hazard’ is formally outside this definition of vulnerability (But vulnerability is always linked to a specific hazard or set of hazards why exposure is crucial)

11 Vulnerability assessment as the end point (CC as example)
Projections of the future emission trends Development of climate scenarios Biophysical impact studies Identification of adaptive options Finally: residual consequences define levels of vulnerability Thus: the level of vulnerability is determined by the adverse consequences that remain after the process of adaptation and becomes a summary of the net impact of the major climate problem

12 Vulnerability Assessment
Investigation of causes of differential consequences and responses to offset, lessen or prevent potential adverse consequences. Seeks answers to questions such as Who (or what) is vulnerable? To what are they vulnerable? Why are they vulnerable? What responses can lessen vulnerability?

13 Framework for Vulnerability Assessment

14 Vulnerability and Impact assessments
Vulnerability assessments differs from traditional approaches to impact assessments in a number of important ways. In essence, impact assessment selects a particular environmental stress of concern (e.g. climate change, a large dam, a new fishing technology) and seeks to identify its most important consequences for a variety of social or ecosystem properties. Vulnerability assessment, in contrast, selects a particular group or unit of concern (e.g. landless farmers, boreal forest ecosystems, coastal communities) and seeks to determine the risk of specific adverse outcomes for that unit in the face of a variety of stresses and identifies a range of factors that may reduce response capacity and adaptation to stressors

15 Uses of vulnerability assessments
International: National comparisons of vulnerability (indices) Users: e.g. UNFCC (eligibility for adaptation funding) Regional: Multiple dimension (profiles of regional vulnerability) Users: regional agencies for programme design Local: Profiles of vulnerable situations or syndromes Users: Local offices for project evaluation Issues for all of the above: Ecosystems, water, other sectors, food, health, settlement, climate

16 Impact vs Vulnerability Assessment
Impact Assessment Motivation: how bad are the risks? Attempt to “predict” impacts Careful attention to modeling future exposure Capacities not emphasized Focus on a single stress Recent experience not directly relevant Treatment of adaptation is ad hoc, afterthought Vulnerability Assessment Motivation: what would reduce risks? Investigate causes of vulnerability Careful attention to social causes of vulnerability, capacities to respond using sensitivity analyses Multiple stresses considered Recent experience with hazards, stresses used as analogues Treatment of adaptation central

17 Common Ground for V & I Analyses
VA needed to provide more sophisticated understanding & representation of Capacities of people, communities, systems Adaptation processes and effectiveness Dimensions of the hazard that matter most Impact models can integrate info about capacities with “predicted” exposures Quantitative estimates of impacts for different scenarios of capacities and exposures Quantitative risk analysis

18 Conceptual framework for a vulnerability assessment to climate change
Emissions Concentrations Climate change variability Exposure Impacts of climate change Non-climatic factors Sensitivity to climate stimuli Adaptive capacity Mitigation Adaptation Vulnerability to climate change


20 Classification of vulnerability factors according to scale and disciplinary domain
Socioeconomic Biogeophysical Internal Response capacity (e.g. household income, access to information) Sensitivity (e.g. topography, environmental conditions) External “External social factors” (e.g. national policies, economic globalization) Exposure (e.g. severe storms, sea-level change) Taken together, the four groups of vulnerability factors constitute the vulnerability profile of a particular system or community to a specific hazard at a given point in time. The ‘response capacity’ of a community to climate change, for instance, comprises its ‘coping capacity’ (i.e. its ability to cope with short-term weather variations) as well as ‘adaptive capacity’ (i.e. its ability to adapt to long-term climate change),

21 Exposure Even where a natural hazard appear to be directly linked to loss of life and damage to property, there are social factors involved that cause peoples’ vulnerability generated by social, economic and political processes that influence how hazards affect people in varying ways and with differing intensities.

22 Coping strategies The coping capacity of human society is a combination of all the natural and social characteristics and resources available in a particular location that are used to reduce the impacts of hazards. Often complex! These include factors such as wealth, technology, education, information, skills, infrastructure, access to resources and management capabilities. In many instances, coping capacity that was adequate in the past has not kept pace with environmental change. This can happen when traditional options are reduced or eliminated (the settlement of nomads, the introduction of regulations restricting resource use that was previously free), or when new threats emerge for which no coping mechanism exists, resources are lacking, and technology and skills are not available. (e.g. urban slum dwellers)

23 Adaptation Adaptation to a changing climate, responding to and moderating harm to reduce societal vulnerabilities is today seen as an important complement to strategies of mitigation in climate policy under any scenario produced by the IPCC. International treaties on climate change state that parties shall cooperate in preparing for adaptation by formulating and implementing programmes related to both mitigation and adaptation (UNFCCC § 4.1, Kyoto Protocol § 10). The IPCC (2001) definition of climate adaptation is: Adjustments in natural and social systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities (IPCC 2001, p 982). Adaptation can take place on different societal levels and among different actors within society, be planned or autonomous, be short-term or long-term, take technological, behavioural or institutional form. The EEA (2005) for example mentions adaptation strategies such as flood defences, public health, water resources and management of ecosystems.

24 Adaptive capacity Adaptive capacity concerns how countries, regions etc. are equipped to deal with the impacts of climate change, i.e. the ability to respond to changes and initiate responses, and is often believed to be generally conditioned by wealth, technology, education, access to resources, stability, management capabilities etc. Probably for the first time in history we can predict long-term future changes in climate why societies now have the possibility to adapt in advance. In a sense, societies have always adapted to changing environmental conditions but climate adaptation has so far mainly concentrated on adapting to present climate variability rather than to future climate changes.

25 Vulnerable places Some people live in places of inherent risk to humans — areas, for example, that are too hot, too dry or too prone to natural hazards. Others are at risk because an existing threat has become more severe or extensive through time. Places or conditions which were once safe have been so altered that they no longer safeguard human health and well-being adequately.

26 Vulnerable individuals & livelihoods
Individuals particularly vulnerable to environmental change are those with Relatively high exposures to changes High sensitivities to changes Low coping and adaptive capacities Low resilience and recovery potential

27 Vulnerable groups Although everyone is vulnerable to environmental impacts of some kind, the ability of people and societies to adapt to and cope with change is very varied. Developing countries, particularly the least developed, have less capacity to adapt to change and are more vulnerable to environmental threats and global change, just as they are more vulnerable to other stresses. This condition is most extreme among the poorest people (IPCC 2001) and disadvantaged groups such as women and children. Poverty is generally recognized as one of the most important causes of vulnerability to environmental threats, on the basis that the poor tend to have much lower coping capacities, and thus they bear a disproportionate burden of the impact of disasters, Particular groups defined by ethnicity, class, occupation, location of work or domicile may suffer differently from others

28 Vulnerable situations
People move in and out of over time (not the female gender in itself that marks vulnerability but gender in a specific situation) Thus: Vulnerability then refers only to people, not to buildings (susceptible, unsafe), economies (fragile), nor unstable slopes (hazardous) or regions of the earth's surface (hazard-prone)

29 Climate change impacts
Climate impact studies have tended to focus on direct physical, chemical or biological effects But… A 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.

30 (Existing) vulnerability to climate variability – Main issues
Already stressed coping capacities (sectors, livelihood, low diversification) Risks Ecosystem goods and services (degradation, sensitivity) Water (quality, quantity, access) Agriculture and food security Health Involuntary displacement, migration and conflicts

31 Multiple stressors and scales
In fact, uncertainty and thresholds, multiple stressors, multiple scales, adaptive capacity and barriers to adaptation are stressed by many vulnerability researchers and some argue that the most important effects may not be captured in studies that focus on a single system, sector, or scale

32 Example: Africa Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents to climate change and climate variability, a situation aggravated by the interaction of ‘multiple stresses’, occurring at various levels, and low adaptive capacity (IPCC WGII 2007)

33 Current sensitivity Climate exerts a significant control on the day-to-day economic development of Africa, particularly for the agricultural and water-resources sectors, at regional, local and household scales. Many suffer impacts from droughts and floods. These impacts are often further exacerbated by health problems, particularly diarrhoea, cholera and malaria The water sector is strongly influenced by, and sensitive to, changes in climate (including periods of prolonged climate variability). About 25% of the contemporary African population experiences high water stress.

34 Current sensitivity Complex institutional dimensions are often exposed during periods of climate stress. Public service delivery is hampered by poor policy environments in some sectors which provide critical obstacles to economic performance. Africa is also characterised by institutional and legal frameworks that are, in some cases, insufficient to deal with environmental degradation and disaster risks

35 Current sensitivity Ecosystems are critical in Africa, contributing significantly to biodiversity and human well-being Africa’s social and economic development is constrained by climate change, habitat loss, over-harvesting of selected species, the spread of alien species, and activities such as hunting and deforestation, which threaten to undermine the integrity of the continent’s rich but fragile ecosystems

36 Example of external social factors
There are important macro-level processes that serve to heighten vulnerability to climate variability and change across a range of scales in Africa Issues of particular importance include globalisation, trade and equity and modernity and social justice

37 Impacts of climate change
Climate change will aggravate the water stress currently faced by some countries, while some countries that currently do not experience water stress will become at risk of water stress. Climate change and variability are likely to impose additional pressures on water availability, water accessibility and water demand in Africa. Even without climate change, several countries in Africa, particularly in northern Africa, will exceed the limits of their economically usable land-based water resources before 2025. About 25% of Africa’s population (about 200 million people) currently experience high water stress. The population at risk of increased water stress in Africa is projected to be between million and million people by the 2020s and 2050s, respectively

38 Impacts of climate change
Agricultural production and food security (including access to food) in many African countries and regions are likely to be severely compromised by climate change and climate variability A number of countries in Africa already face semi-arid conditions that make agriculture challenging, and climate change will be likely to reduce the length of growing season as well as force large regions of marginal agriculture out of production. Projected reductions in yield in some countries could be as much as 50% by 2020, and crop net revenues could fall by as much as 90% by 2100, with small-scale farmers being the most affected. This would adversely affect food security in the continent.

39 Impacts of climate change
Changes in a variety of ecosystems are already being detected, particularly in southern African ecosystems, at a faster rate than anticipated Climate change, interacting with human drivers such as deforestation and forest fires, are a threat to Africa’s forest ecosystems. Changes in grasslands and marine ecosystems are also noticeable. It is estimated that, by the 2080s, the proportion of arid and semi-arid lands in Africa is likely to increase by 5-8%. Climate change impacts on Africa’s ecosystems will probably have a negative effect on tourism

40 Example of multiple stressors and vulnerability
Certain countries in sub-Saharan Africa suffer from deteriorating food security and declines in overall real wealth, with estimates that the average person in sub-Saharan Africa becomes poorer by a factor of two every 25 years. The interaction between economic stagnation and slow progress in education has been further compounded by the spread of HIV/AIDS.

41 Adaptation African farmers have developed several adaptation options to cope with current climate variability, but such adaptations may not be sufficient for future changes of climate

42 Why is Africa vulnerable to climate change?
Africa’s major economic sectors are vulnerable to current climate sensitivity, with huge economic impacts, and this vulnerability is exacerbated by existing developmental challenges such as endemic poverty, complex governance and institutional dimensions; limited access to capital, including markets, infrastructure and technology; ecosystem degradation; and complex disasters and conflicts. These in turn have contributed to Africa’s weak adaptive capacity, increasing the continent’s vulnerability to projected climate change.

43 Vulnerability and poverty
Understanding of vulnerability should deepen our understanding of the climatic, social, generational, geographic, economic and political processes that generate poverty, particularly chronic poverty. Climate variability and extreme events play a large role in the ”basket” of vulnerabilities faced by the poor due to their disproportionate dependence on natural resource-based livelihoods and location at high-risk of natural disasters. The impacts of climate change and the vulnerability of poor communities to climate change, vary greatly, but generally, climate change is superimposed on existing vulnerabilities.


45 Exposure, impacts and vulnerabilities

46 What can be done? Strengthening social capital supports coping mechanisms and adaptive capacity of poor people Integrated natural resource management strategies reduce vulnerability of the poor to climate extremes and natural hazards Appropriate infrastructure and technology creates livelihoods and reduces vulnerability of the poor people Climate change impacts on the poor should be addressed by integrating adaptation responses into development planning. Strategies to strengthen capacity to cope with current climate variability and extremes and to adapt to expected future climatic conditions are mutually supportive. They can also help identify and take advantage of the positive impacts of climate change

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