Environmental Modeling & Assessment

, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 1–16 | Cite as

Towards a Formal Framework of Vulnerability to Climate Change

  • Cezar Ionescu
  • Richard J. T. KleinEmail author
  • Jochen Hinkel
  • K. S. Kavi Kumar
  • Rupert Klein


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.


Vulnerability Adaptive capacity Climate change Formalisation System theory 



This work in progress has benefited greatly from discussions with Paul Flondor, Anthony Patt, Dagmar Schröter, Gerhard Petschel-Held, Matthias Lüdeke, Carlo Jaeger, the participants of the first NeWater WB2 meeting (Oxford, UK, 18-22 April 2005) and those of the second workshop on Modelling Social Vulnerability (Montpellier, France, 3–7 April 2006). Three anonymous reviewers helped to improve the manuscript substantially. Their patience and persistence is greatly appreciated. Jeroen Aerts, Sandy Bisaro, Nicola Botta, Tom Downing, Klaus Eisenack, Hans-Martin Füssel, Roger Jones, Anders Levermann, Daniel Lincke, Robert Marschinski, Karen O’Brien, Anthony Patt, Colin Polsky, Dagmar Schröter, Pablo Suarez, Frank Thomalla, Saskia Werners and Sarah Wolf also commented on earlier versions of this paper, one of which has appeared as FAVAIA Working Paper 1. Funding has been provided by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (grant KL 611/14) and the Research Directorate-General of the European Commission (project NeWater; contract number 511179 (GOCE)). K.S. Kavi Kumar was funded by the START Visiting Scientist Program. Starbucks Coffee Company offered work-inducive environments in a variety of locations, although their chai tea latte invariably tends to be a tad sweet. Work on this paper began as a co-operation between the former PIK EVA project and the PIRSIQ activity, and has led to the joint PIK-SEI FAVAIA project.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cezar Ionescu
    • 1
  • Richard J. T. Klein
    • 2
    Email author
  • Jochen Hinkel
    • 1
  • K. S. Kavi Kumar
    • 3
  • Rupert Klein
    • 4
  1. 1.Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact ResearchPotsdamGermany
  2. 2.Stockholm Environment InstituteStockholmSweden
  3. 3.Madras School of EconomicsChennaiIndia
  4. 4.Freie Universität BerlinBerlinGermany

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