, Volume 47, Issue 4, pp 325-352

Theory and Practice in Assessing Vulnerability to Climate Change andFacilitating Adaptation

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We discuss approaches to the assessment of vulnerability to climatevariability and change andattempt to clarify the relationship between the concepts of vulnerability andadaptation. In searchof a robust, policy-relevant framework, we define vulnerability in terms ofthe capacity ofindividuals and social groups to respond to, that is, to cope with, recoverfrom or adapt to, anyexternal stress placed on their livelihoods and well-being. The approach thatwe develop placesthe social and economic well-being of society at the centre of the analysis,focussing on thesocio-economic and institutional constraints that limit the capacity torespond. From thisperspective, the vulnerability or security of any group is determined byresource availability andby the entitlement of individuals and groups to call on these resources. Weillustrate theapplication of this approach through the results of field research in coastalVietnam, highlightingshifting patterns of vulnerability to tropical storm impacts at the household-and community-levelin response to the current process of economic renovation and drawingconclusions concerningmeans of supporting the adaptive response to climate stress. Four prioritiesfor action areidentified that would improve the situation of the most exposed members ofmany communities:poverty reduction; risk-spreading through income diversification; respectingcommon propertymanagement rights; and promoting collective security. A sustainable response,we argue, mustalso address the underlying causes of social vulnerability, including theinequitable distributionof resources.