, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 159-170
Date: 28 May 2010

Vulnerability assessment within climate change and natural hazard contexts: revealing gaps and synergies through coastal applications

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The climate change and natural hazard communities have developed the notion of vulnerability and associated methods for its assessment in parallel, with only limited interaction. What are the underlying reasons for this diversity; is there advantage in greater synergy? If yes, what are the pathways through which greater integration could be fostered? This paper discusses these issues using vulnerability studies in coastal areas to describe gaps between climate change and natural hazard approaches, and investigates scope for mutual learning and collaboration in the development of methodologies for vulnerability assessment. An overview of methods highlights the separation between climate change and natural hazard approaches. The main differences identified, beyond formal divergences in terminology, are linked to: process (stress vs shock), scale (temporal, functional and spatial), assessment approach (statistical vs prospective) and levels of uncertainty. We argue that the underlying source of divergence is the initial difference of purpose, one being identification of climate change adaptation pathways, the other being disaster risk reduction. In this context, the notion of vulnerability and its expression through assessment studies is the focal point connecting both domains. Indeed, the ongoing and active development of vulnerability concepts and methods have already produced some tools to help overcome common issues, such as acting in a context of high uncertainties, taking into account the dynamics and spatial scale of a social-ecological system, or gathering viewpoints from different sciences to combine human and impact-based approaches. Based on this assessment, this paper proposes concrete perspectives and possibilities to benefit from existing commonalities in the construction and application of assessment tools.

Edited by Fabrice Renaud, UNU-Institute for Environment and Human Security (EHS), Germany.