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Climate change vulnerability assessments: an evolution of conceptual thinking

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H.-M. Fussel
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Climate change vulnerability assessments are performed for numerous purposes, with each purpose having particular information needs, and so this requires a particular assessment method to provide this information. There is a long history of vulnerability assessments in other contexts but this paper focuses solely on those associated with climate change.The authors seek to achieve two objectives:to present an understanding of the major concepts underlying vulnerability assessments as presented by the IPCCto exemplify the evolution of climate change vulnerability assessments, and therefore the underlying theory, over time.It is concluded that the development of vulnerability assessments shows a trend from assessments considering multiple effects of climate change on a system, to assessments recommending policy options for minimizing risks. Four ‘prototypical’ assessment stages have been identified to illustrate an evolution over time:Impact assessments: evaluate the potential effects of a climate change scenario on a particular impact domain and compare it to a constant climate scenarioFirst-generation vulnerability assessments: these are the first step in extending from basic impact assessments and account for non-climatic factors as well as acknowledging potential for adaptation measures to reduce impactsSecond-generation vulnerability assessments: these form a more thorough assessment of adaptive capacity of a system or populationAdaptation policy assessments: not impact driven like the first three approaches, instead these aim to contribute recommendations for specific adaptation measures. These assessments are characterised by involvement of stakeholders and the involve integration of adaptation within existing policies.Overall, the authors identify the progressive inclusion of non-climatic determinants of vulnerability, and the shift in trend from estimating expected damages to attempts at reducing them.