Societal Vulnerability to Climate Change and Variability

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Institutions in many wealthy industrialised countries are robust and their societies appear to be relatively well insulated against the impacts of climate variability, economic problems elsewhere and so on. However, many countries are not in this position, and there is a growing group of humanity which is not benefiting from the apparent global adaptive trends. Worst case scenarios reinforce the impact of this uneven distribution of adaptive capacity, both between and within countries. Nevertheless, at the broad global scale human societies are strongly adaptive and not threatened by climate change for many decades. At the local level the picture is quite different and the survival of some populations at their present locations is in doubt. In the absence of abatement, the longer term outlook is highly uncertain. Adaptation research needs to begin with an understanding of social and economic vulnerability. It requires a different approach to the traditional IPCC impacts assessment, as human behaviour, institutional capacity and culture are more important than biophysical impacts. This is consistent with the intellectual history of the IPCC which has gradually embraced an increasing range of disciplines.