, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 1-16

Towards a Formal Framework of Vulnerability to Climate Change

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There is confusion regarding the notion of “vulnerability” in the climate change scientific community. Recent research has identified a need for formalisation, which would support accurate communication and the elimination of misunderstandings that result from the use of ambiguous terminology. Moreover, a formal framework of vulnerability is a prerequisite for computational approaches to its assessment. This paper presents an attempt at developing such a formal framework. We see vulnerability as a relative concept in the sense that accurate statements about vulnerability are possible only if one clearly specifies (1) the entity that is vulnerable, (2) the stimulus to which it is vulnerable and (3) the preference criteria to evaluate the outcome of the interaction between the entity and the stimulus. We relate the resulting framework to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change conceptualisation of vulnerability and two recent vulnerability studies.

This paper is dedicated to the memory of Gerhard Petschel-Held, whose pioneering work on syndromes of global change has been a source of inspiration for us and for others across various schools of thought on vulnerability.