There is increasing scientific and political interest in the links between urbanization and human vulnerability to climate change. However, our literature review shows that the existing scholarship has largely focused on exposure resulting from urbanization, while other dimensions of urban vulnerability such as sensitivity or capacity to cope and adapt have been insufficiently represented or understood. Furthermore, most attention has been given to the negative effects of urbanization, while opportunities for vulnerability reduction have been underemphasized. Therefore, this paper takes a broader perspective to explore key relationships between urbanization, economic development and socio-economic vulnerability on a global scale. Using data with national resolution, we applied a clustering approach to identify ten country groups sharing similar patterns of urbanization and national income. We then explored associations between these country groups and selected indicators of exposure, sensitivity, coping capacity, and adaptive capacity drawing upon data from the World Risk Index. Our findings suggest that countries with rapid urbanization and economic transformation face significant challenges with respect to sensitivity and the lack of capacities. Additionally, these challenges tend to be greater the lower the income of the respective country. Yet, at the same time, urbanization can be a main driver for enhancing response capacity. The analysis suggests that urbanization can, hence, have nuanced effects on overall vulnerability. We argue that climate change science needs to be more balanced in terms of acknowledging and examining the different possible pathways of vulnerability effects related to urbanization. The country group analysis can provide a first entry point.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
The literature makes reference to urbanization as, first, the growth of urban population due to rural–urban-migration and natural population growth in cities as well as, second, a measure for the proportion of population living in urban rather than rural areas. Both definitions are considered and operationalized here (see section 2).
See section 3 for definitions of these terms.
Note that due to data availability GNI is used for (2) while GDP needs to be used for (4). Yet, because the absolute levels of both are not being compared this shortcoming is considered acceptable.
Even though urban exposure to climate change hazards can be generated from global to local scales, the analysis of this paper has a global focus and applies the resolution of the country groups.
While the original WRI also considers exposure to earthquakes, this has been excluded here given the climate change focus of this paper. A maximum exposure of 100 would imply that all people within a country are exposed to one or more of the selected hazards.
This dimensions is originally called susceptibility in the World Risk Index but follows a conceptual definition that is very much in line with the definition of sensitivity applied here (c.f. Welle et al. 2012).
Adger WN (2006) Vulnerability. Glob Environ Chang 16(3):268–281. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2006.02.006
Adger WN, Agrawala S, Mirza MQ, Conde C, O’Brien K, Pulhin J, Pulwarty R, Smit B, Takahashi K (2007) Assessment of adaptation practices, options, constraints and capacity. In: Parry ML, Canziani O, Palutikof J, van der Linden P, Hanson C (eds) Climate change 2007. Impacts, adaptation and vulnerability: Contribution of working group II to the fourth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 717–743
Balica SF, Wright NG, Meulen F (2012) A flood vulnerability index for coastal cities and its use in assessing climate change impacts. Nat Hazards 64(1):73–105. doi:10.1007/s11069-012-0234-1
Birkmann J, Cardona OD, Carreño ML, Barbat AH, Pelling M, Schneiderbauer S, Kienberger S, Keiler M, Alexander D, Zeil P, Welle T (2013) Framing vulnerability, risk and societal responses: The MOVE framework. Nat Hazards 67(2):193–211. doi:10.1007/s11069-013-0558-5
Birkmann J, Garschagen M, Kraas F, Quang N (2010) Adaptive urban governance: New challenges for the second generation of urban adaptation strategies to climate change. Sustain Sci 5(2):185–206. doi:10.1007/s11625-010-0111-3
Bloom DE, Canning D, Fink G (2008) Urbanization and the wealth of nations. Science 319(5864):772–775. doi:10.1126/science.1153057
Bohle H (2001) Vulnerability and criticality: Perspectives from social geography. IHDP Update 2:1–6
Cardona O, van Aalst M, Birkmann J, Fordham M, McGregor G, Perez R, Pulwarty R, Schipper L, Sinh BT (2012) Determinants of risk: Exposure and vulnerabilit. In: IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], Field CB, Barros V, Stocker TF, Qin D, Dokken DJ, Ebi KL, Mastrandrea MD, Mach KJ, Plattner G-K, Allen SK, Tignor M, Midgley PM (eds) Managing the risks of extreme events and disasters to advance climate change adaption. A special report of working groups I and II of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, New York, pp 65–108
Cross JA (2001) Megacities and small towns: Different perspectives on hazard vulnerability. Environmental Hazards 3(2):63–80
Cutter S, Gall M (2008) Hurricane Katrina: A failure of planning or a planned failure? In German. In: Felgentreff C, Glade T (eds) Naturrisiken und sozialkatastrophen. Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, Berlin, pp 353–366
Dilley M, Chen RS, Deichmann U, Lerner-Lam AL, Arnold M (2005) Natural disaster hotspots. A global risk analysis. World Bank, Washington
Eakin H, Luers AL (2006) Assessing the vulnerability of social-environmental systems. Annu Rev Environ Resourc 31(1):365–394. doi:10.1146/annurev.energy.30.050504.144352
Garschagen M, Kraas F (2010) Assessing Future Resilience to Natural Hazards – The Challenge of Capturing Dynamic Changes under Conditions of Transformation and Climate Change. In: Custer R, Sutter C, Ammann WJ (eds) Proceedings., pp 209–213
Garschagen M (2013) Resilience and organisational institutionalism from a cross-cultural perspective: An exploration based on urban climate change adaptation in Vietnam. Nat Hazards 67(1):25–46. doi:10.1007/s11069-011-9753-4
Garschagen M, Kraas F (2011) Urban climate change adaptation in the context of transformation: Lessons from Vietnam. In: Otto-Zimmermann K (ed) Resilient cities. Cities and Adaptation to Climate Change. Springer Netherlands, Dordrecht, pp 131–139
Hallegatte S, Corfee-Morlot J (2011) Understanding climate change impacts, vulnerability and adaptation at city scale: An introduction. Clim Chang 104(1):1–12. doi:10.1007/s10584-010-9981-8
Hanson S, Nicholls R, Ranger N, Hallegatte S, Corfee-Morlot J, Herweijer C, Chateau J (2011) A global ranking of port cities with high exposure to climate extremes. Clim Chang 104(1):89–111. doi:10.1007/s10584-010-9977-4
Harmeling S, Eckstein D (2013) Global Climate Risk Index 2013, Bonn
Henderson V (2005) Urbanization and growth. In: Aghion P, Durlauf SN (eds) Handbook of economic growth. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp 1543–1591
Huq S, Kovats S, Reid H, Satterthwaite D (2007) Editorial: Reducing risks to cities from disasters and climate change. Environ Urban 19(1):3–15. doi:10.1177/0956247807078058
Iizumi A, Surjan A (2011) Initiatives towards reducing the impacts of the urban heat island (UHI) in Tokyo, Japan. In: Rosenzweig C, Solecki W, Hammer SE, Mehrotra S (eds) Climate change and cities. First assessment report of the urban climate change research network. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p 240
IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] (2012) Summary for policy makers. In: Field CB, Barros V, Stocker TF, Qin D, Dokken DJ, Ebi KL, Mastrandrea MD, Mach KJ, Plattner G-K, Allen SK, Tignor M, Midgley PM (eds) Managing the risks of extreme events and disasters to advance climate change adaption. A special report of working groups I and II of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, New York, pp 3–21, 582 pp
Jayasuriya R, Wodon Q (2002) Explaining Country Efficiency in Improving Health and Education Indicators. Background Paper for the World Bank Development Report 2003
Kraas F (2003) Megacities as global risk areas. Petermanns Geographische Mitteilungen 147(4):6–15
Kriegler E, O’Neill BC, Hallegatte S, Kram T, Lempert RJ, Moss RH, Wilbanks T (2012) The need for and use of socio-economic scenarios for climate change analysis: A new approach based on shared socio-economic pathways. Glob Environ Chang 22(4):807–822. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2012.05.005
Lau CL, Smythe LD, Craig SB, Weinstein P (2010) Climate change, flooding, urbanisation and leptospirosis: Fuelling the fire? Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 104(10):631–638. doi:10.1016/j.trstmh.2010.07.002
McGranahan G, Balk D, Anderson B (2007) The rising tide: Assessing the risks of climate change and human settlements in low elevation coastal zones. Environ Urban 19(1):17–37. doi:10.1177/0956247807076960
Mitchell JK (1999) Crucibles of hazard. Mega-cities and disasters in transition. United Nations University Press, Tokyo, New York
Mokhov II (2009) Link of intensity of heat-island effect of a city with its size and population. Dokl Earth Sc 427(2):997–1000. doi:10.1134/S1028334X09060245
O’Neill B, Carter TR, Ebi KJ, Edmonds J, Hallegatte S, Kemp-Benedict E, Kriegler E, Mearns L, Moss R, Riahi K, van Ruijven B, van Vuuren D (2012) Meeting Report of the Workshop on the Nature and Use of New Socioeconomic Pathways for Climate Change Research. Boulder, CO, 02–04 November 2011. http://www.isp.ucar.edu/socio-economic-pathways
Patel RB, Burke TF (2009) Urbanization - an emerging humanitarian disaster. N Engl J Med 361(18)
Pelling M (2003) The vulnerability of cities. Natural disasters and social resilience. Earthscan Publications, London
Robine J, Michel J, Herrmann F (2012) Excess male mortality and age-specific mortality trajectories under different mortality conditions: A lesson from the heat wave of summer 2003. Mechanisms of Ageing and Development 133(6):378–386. doi:10.1016/j.mad.2012.04.004
Romero-Lankao P, Qin H (2011) Conceptualizing urban vulnerability to global climate and environmental change. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 3(3):142–149. doi:10.1016/j.cosust.2010.12.016
Romero-Lankao P, Dodman D (2011) Cities in transition: Transforming urban centers from hotbeds of GHG emissions and vulnerability to seedbeds of sustainability and resilience. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 3(3):113–120. doi:10.1016/j.cosust.2011.02.002
Romero-Lankao P, Qin H, Dickinson K (2012) Urban vulnerability to temperature-related hazards: A meta-analysis and meta-knowledge approach. Glob Environ Chang 22(3):670–683. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2012.04.002
Rosenzweig C, Solecki W, Hammer SE, Mehrotra S (eds) (2011) Climate change and cities. First assessment report of the urban climate change research network. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Satterthwaite D, Huq S, Pelling M, Reid H, Romero-Lankao P (2007) Adapting to climate change in urban areas. The possibilities and constraints in low- and middle-income nations. IIED Human Settlements Discussion Paper Series 1
de Sherbinin A, Schiller A, Pulsipher A (2007) The vulnerability of global cities to climate hazards. Environ Urban 19(1):39–64. doi:10.1177/0956247807076725
Solecki W, Leichenko R, O’Brien K (2011) Climate change adaptation strategies and disaster risk reduction in cities: Connections, contentions, and synergies. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 3(3):135–141. doi:10.1016/j.cosust.2011.03.001
Sudmeier-Rieux K, Fra Paelo U, Garschagen M, Estrella M, Renaud F, Jaboyedoff M (2013) Toward Risk-Sensitive Land Use Planning: Case Studies from Nepal, Spain and Vietnam. Background Paper to the 2013 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction
Turner BL, Kasperson RE, Matson PA, McCarthy JJ, Corell RW, Christensen L, Eckley N, Kasperson JX, Luers A, Martello ML, Polsky C, Pulsipher A, Schiller A (2003) Science and technology for sustainable development special feature: A framework for vulnerability analysis in sustainability science. Proc Natl Acad Sci 100(14):8074–8079. doi:10.1073/pnas.1231335100
UN-DESA [United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs] (2012) World Urbanization Prospect: The 2011 Revision. Online Data, Country Profiles. http://esa.un.org/unpd/wup/unup/index_panel3.html. Accessed 01 May 2012
UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] (2007) Human development report 2007/2008. Fighting climate change: Human solidarity in a divided world. United Nations Development Programme; Palgrave Macmillan, New York
UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] (2010) Human Development Report (2010) The real wealth of nations: Pathways to human development. United Nations Development Program, New York
UN-HABITAT [United Nations Human Settlements Programme] (2011) Cities and climate change. Global report on human settlements 2011. Earthscan, London
UNISDR [United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction] (2011) Global assessment report on disaster risk report 2011. Revealing risk, rededining development. UNISDR, Geneva
van Vuuren DP, Riahi K, Moss R, Edmonds J, Thomson A, Nakicenovic N, Kram T, Berkhout F, Swart R, Janetos A, Rose SK, Arnell N (2012) A proposal for a new scenario framework to support research and assessment in different climate research communities. Glob Environ Chang 22(1):21–35. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2011.08.002
Welle T, Birkmann J, Rhyner J, Witting M, Wolfertz J (2012) World risk index 2012: Concept, updating and results. In: Alliance Development Works (ed) World risk report 2012. Environmental Degradation and Disasters, Berlin, pp 11–26
Wilbanks T, Romero-Lankao P, Bao M, Berkhout F, Cairncross S, Ceron J, Kapshe M, Muir-Wood R, Zapata-Marti R (2007) Industry, settlement and society. In: Parry ML, Canziani O, Palutikof J, van der Linden P, Hanson C (eds) Climate change 2007. Impacts, adaptation and vulnerability: Contribution of working group II to the fourth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 357–390
Wisner B, Blaikie P, Cannon T, Davis I (2004) At risk. Natural hazards, people’s vulnerability, and disasters, 2nd edn. Routledge, London
World Bank (2012) The World Bank Data Catalogue. http://data.worldbank.org
Work by Patricia Romero-Lankao is financed by the National Science Foundation of the USA. We are grateful to Dale Rothman and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments which helped to improve the manuscript. We also would like to thank Torsten Welle for providing the World Risk Index source data and Tobias Blätgen for supporting the data harmonization.
This article is part of a Special Issue on "Advancing Climate Change Adaptation and Risk Management" edited by Joern Birkmann and Reinhard Mechler.
Electronic supplementary material
Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.
(DOCX 22.0 kb)
About this article
Cite this article
Garschagen, M., Romero-Lankao, P. Exploring the relationships between urbanization trends and climate change vulnerability. Climatic Change 133, 37–52 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-013-0812-6
- Adaptive Capacity
- Human Development Index
- Urban Growth
- National Income
- Transition Country