Population and Environment

, Volume 31, Issue 5, pp 286–316 | Cite as

Impacts of population change on vulnerability and the capacity to adapt to climate change and variability: a typology based on lessons from “a hard country”

  • Robert McLemanEmail author
Original Paper


This article describes and analyzes the impacts of population and demographic change on the vulnerability of communities to climate change and variability. It begins with a review of existing literature on the effects of population change on anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, the exposure of settlements to climate risks, and on the capacity to adapt to climate change. The article explores the relationship between population change and adaptive capacity through detailed examination of empirical findings from a study of small communities in eastern Ontario, Canada currently experiencing a combination of changes in local climatic conditions and rapid demographic change caused by in-migration of urban retirees and out-migration of young, educated people. The combination of changing demographic and climatic patterns has placed increased stress on local social networks that have long been critical to climate adaptation in that region. The case study and literature review are used to create a general typology of the relationship between population change and vulnerability that may be used as a framework for future research in this field.


Climate change Vulnerability Adaptation Adaptive capacity Climate Migration Demographic change Social networks Ontario Addington Highlands Environment 



The author would like to thank Natural Resources Canada’s Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation Program for its financial support of the empirical research conducted in Addington Highlands. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada also provided financial support that was critical to the production of this article. Genevieve Gilbert is thanked for her cartography and research assistance. Nathalie Paquette assisted in the compilation of climatic data, Nadine Lemoine assisted in preparing population data. This research would not have been possible without the assistance of the residents and council of Addington Highlands. This article was strengthened on the basis of comments of anonymous reviewers and the editor.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of OttawaOttawaCanada

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