Sustainability Science

, Volume 5, Issue 2, pp 159–170 | Cite as

Vulnerability assessment within climate change and natural hazard contexts: revealing gaps and synergies through coastal applications

  • E. RomieuEmail author
  • T. Welle
  • S. Schneiderbauer
  • M. Pelling
  • C. Vinchon
Special Feature: Original Article Vulnerability, risk, and adaptation in a changing climate


The climate change and natural hazard communities have developed the notion of vulnerability and associated methods for its assessment in parallel, with only limited interaction. What are the underlying reasons for this diversity; is there advantage in greater synergy? If yes, what are the pathways through which greater integration could be fostered? This paper discusses these issues using vulnerability studies in coastal areas to describe gaps between climate change and natural hazard approaches, and investigates scope for mutual learning and collaboration in the development of methodologies for vulnerability assessment. An overview of methods highlights the separation between climate change and natural hazard approaches. The main differences identified, beyond formal divergences in terminology, are linked to: process (stress vs shock), scale (temporal, functional and spatial), assessment approach (statistical vs prospective) and levels of uncertainty. We argue that the underlying source of divergence is the initial difference of purpose, one being identification of climate change adaptation pathways, the other being disaster risk reduction. In this context, the notion of vulnerability and its expression through assessment studies is the focal point connecting both domains. Indeed, the ongoing and active development of vulnerability concepts and methods have already produced some tools to help overcome common issues, such as acting in a context of high uncertainties, taking into account the dynamics and spatial scale of a social-ecological system, or gathering viewpoints from different sciences to combine human and impact-based approaches. Based on this assessment, this paper proposes concrete perspectives and possibilities to benefit from existing commonalities in the construction and application of assessment tools.


Vulnerability Coastal zone Climate change Natural hazard Adaptation Disaster risk reduction 



This paper has been made possible by the FP7 research project MOVE (methods for the improvement of vulnerability assessment in Europe), which brings together scientists from different disciplines and domains. We are very grateful to all of the MOVE team and to the European Commission for allowing, thanks to this project, constructive interdisciplinary exchanges, which are powerful means to overcome many challenges associated with vulnerability assessment. We acknowledge and support efforts from institutions to use vulnerability as a key concept for connecting climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. Part of the presented costal vulnerability review is extracted from a study commissioned by the French Environmental Ministry (Romieu and Vinchon 2009).


  1. Adger WN (2006) Vulnerability. Global Environ Change 16:268–281CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adger WN, Hughes TP, Folke C et al (2005) Social-ecological resilience to coastal disasters. Science 309:1036–1039CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Boruff BJ, Emrich C, Cutter SL (2005) Erosion hazard vulnerability of US coastal counties. J Coastal Res 21:32–942CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Birkmann J, von Teichman K, Aldunce P, Bach C, Nguyen Thanh B, Garschagen M, Kanwar S, Setiadi N, LeHogoc T (2009) Addressing the challenge: recommendations and quality criteria. In: Birkmann J, Tetzlaff G, Zehntel KO (eds) Linking disaster risk reduction and adaptation to climate change. DKKV Publication Series 38, Bonn, pp 35–48Google Scholar
  5. Birkmann J (2006) Measuring vulnerability to promote disaster-resilient societies: conceptual frameworks and definitions. In: Birkmann J (ed) Measuring vulnerability to natural hazards, UNU Press, pp 9–54.Google Scholar
  6. Birkmann J, Fernando N (2008) Measuring revealed and emergent vulnerabilities on coastal communities to tsunami in Sri Lanka. Disasters 32(1):82–105CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cardona OD (2003) The need for rethinking the concepts of vulnerability and risk from a holistic perspective: a necessary review and criticism for effective risk management. In: Bankoff G, Frerks G, Hilhorst D (eds) Mapping vulnerability: disasters, development and people, Earthscan, pp 37–52.Google Scholar
  8. Cutter SL, Boruff BJ, Shirley WL (2003) Indicators of social vulnerability to environmental hazards. Social Sci Q 84:242–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Füssel HM (2007) Vulnerability: A generally applicable conceptual framework for climate change research. Global Environ Change 17:155–167CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Garcin M, Desprats JF, Fontaine M, Pedreros R, Attanayake N, Fernando S, Siriwardana C, De Silva U, Poisson B (2008) Integrated approach for coastal hazards and risks in Sri Lanka. Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci 8:577–586CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Haasnoot M, Offermans AGE, Middelkoop H (2009) Methodology to determine the vulnerability of deltas to climate change and to identify adaptation strategies. EGU General Assembly 2009, Geophysical Research Abstracts 11.Google Scholar
  12. Hallegate S (2009) Strategies to adapt to an uncertain climate change. Global Environ Change 19:240–247CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Harvey N, Woodroffe CD (2008) Australian approaches to coastal vulnerability assessment. Sustain Sci 3:67–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Heinz Center (ed) (2002) In: Heinz Center (ed) Human links to coastal disasters. Heinz Center, Washington DC.Google Scholar
  15. Hoozemans FMJ, Marchand M, Pennekamp HA (1993) In: Delft Hydraulics (ed) A global vulnerability analysis: vulnerability assessment for population, coastal wetlands and rice production on a global scale, 2nd edn. The Netherlands.Google Scholar
  16. Idier D, Poumadère M, Vinchon C, Romieu E, Oliveros C (2009) Vulnerability of sandy coasts to climate change and anthropic pressures: methodology and preliminary results. EGU General Assembly 2009, Geophysical Research Abstracts 11.Google Scholar
  17. IPCC CZMS (1991) The seven steps to vulnerability assessment of coastal areas to sea-level rise—a common methodology. Report of the Coastal zone management subgroup. IPCC Response strategies working group. Revision no. 1. Google Scholar
  18. ISDR (2009) Global disaster risk: patterns, trends and drivers. In: United Nations (ed) Global assessment report on disaster risk reduction, Geneva.Google Scholar
  19. Jonkman SN, Bočkarjovab M, Kokc M, Bernardinid P (2008) Integrated hydrodynamic and economic modelling of flood damage in the Netherlands. Ecol Econ 66:77–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kaplan M, Renaud FG, Lüchters G (2009) Vulnerability assessment and protective effects of coastal vegetation during the 2004 Tsunami in Sri Lanka. Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci 9:1479–1494CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Klein RJT, Nicholls RJ (1999) Assessment of coastal vulnerability to climate change. Ambio 28(2):182–187Google Scholar
  22. Klinke A, Renn O (2002) A new approach to risk evaluation and management : risk based, precaution based and discourse based strategies. Risk Anal 22:1071–1094CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. McFadden L, Nicholls RJ, Penning-Rowsell EC (2006) Managing coastal vulnerability: an integrated approach. University of Middlesex, FHRC PublicationGoogle Scholar
  24. McLaughlin S, McKenna J, Cooper JAG (2002) Socio-economic data in coastal vulnerability indices: constraints and opportunities. J Coastal Res SI 36:487–497Google Scholar
  25. Mendoza ET (2008) Coastal vulnerability to storms in the Catalan Coast. Thesis report, Technical university of Catalonia, BarcelonaGoogle Scholar
  26. Meur-Férec C, Deboudt P, Morel V (2008) Coastal risks in France: an integrated method for evaluating vulnerability. J Coastal Res 24(2):178–189CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Nicholls RJ (1995) Synthesis of vulnerability analysis studies. In: Coastal zone management center (ed) WORLD Coast’93, Rijkswaterstaat, pp.1–41Google Scholar
  28. Mitchell T, Van Aalst M (2008) Convergence of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. A review for DFID—31st October 2008Google Scholar
  29. O’Brian K, Eriksen S, Schjolden A, Nygaard L (2004) What’s in a Word? Conflicting interpretations of vulnerability in climate change research. CICERO Working Paper 2004:04. Center for International Climate and Environmental Research, NorwayGoogle Scholar
  30. Office of Emergency Preparedness, Executive Office of the President of the United States (OEP-EOP) (1972) Disaster preparedness. In: Report to the Congress, US Government Printing OfficeGoogle Scholar
  31. Pelling M (2007) Learning from others: scope and challenges for participatory disaster risk assessment. Disasters 31(4):373–385CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pelling M (2001) Natural Disasters? In: Castree N, Braun B (eds) Social nature, Blackwells, London, pp 170–188Google Scholar
  33. Pelling M, Uitto JI (2001) Small island developing states: natural disaster vulnerability and global change. Environ Hazards Global Environ Change 3:49–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Post J, Wegescheider S, Mück M, Zosseder K, Kiefl R, Steinmetz T, Strunz G (2009) Assessment of human immediate response capability related to tsunami threats in Indonesia at a sub-national scale. Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci 9:1075–1086CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Reese S, Cousins WJ, Power WL, Palmer NG, Tejakusuma IG, Nurgrahadi S (2007) Tsunami vulnerability of buildings and people in South Java—field observation after the July 2006 Java tsunami. Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci 7:573–589CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Romieu E, Vinchon C (2009) Evaluation de la vulnérabilité en zone côtière: état de l’art et analyse critique. Rapport final. BRGM/RP-57389-FR.Google Scholar
  37. Schipper L, Pelling M (2006) Disaster risk, climate change and international development: scope and challenges for integration. Disasters 30(1):19–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Smit B, Wandel J (2006) Adaptation, adaptive capacity and vulnerability. Global Environ Change 16:282–292CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Taubenboeck H, Goseberg N, Setiadi N, Lämmle G, Moder F, Oczipka M, Klüpfel H, Wahl R, Schlurmann T, Strunz G, Birkmann J, Nagel K, Siegert F, Lehmann F, Dech S, Gress A, Klein R (2009) “Last-Mile” preparation for a potential disaster—interdisciplinary approach towards tsunami early warning and an evacuation information system for the coastal city of Padang, Indonsia. Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci 9:1509–1528CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Thieler ER, Hammar-Klose ES (1999) National assessment of coastal vulnerability to future sea-level rise: preliminary results for the U.S. Atlantic Coast. U.S. Geological Survey, Open-File Report 99–593, 1 sheet. Available online at:
  41. Thywissen K (2006) Components of risk—a comparative glossary. SOURCE No. 2/2006, Bonn:UNU-EHS, 48 ppGoogle Scholar
  42. Tompkins EL, Adger WN (2004) Does adaptive management of natural resources enhance resilience to climate change? Ecol Soc 9(2):10Google Scholar
  43. Turner BL, Kasperson RE, Matson PA et al (2003) A framework for vulnerability analysis in sustainability science. Proc Natl Acad Sci USAGoogle Scholar
  44. United Nations Disaster Relief Organization (UNDRO) (1984) Disaster prevention and mitigation—a compendium of current knowledge, vol 11. Preparedness Aspects, New York.Google Scholar
  45. UNFCCC (2008) Compendium on methods and tools to evaluate impacts of, vulnerability and adaptation to, climate change. Online reportGoogle Scholar
  46. United Nations—International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (2009) Terminology on disaster risk reduction.Google Scholar
  47. Vafeidis AT, Nicholls RJ, Boot G, Cox J, Grashoff PS, Hinkel J, Maatens R, McFadden L, Spencer T, Tol RSJ (2008) A new global coastal database for impact and vulnerability analysis to sea-level rise. J Coastal Res 24(4):917–924CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Vinchon C, Meur-Ferec C, Balouin Y, Baron-Yelles N, Berthelier E et al (2009) Mise en place d’une approche multidisciplinaire pour l’évaluation de la vulnérabilité de la zone côtière à l’aléa submersion. Projet ANR07-VMC-007/MISEEVA/Rapport intermédiaire. BRGM/RP-57264-FR.Google Scholar
  49. Yamada K, Nunn PD, Mimura N, Michida S, Yamamoto M (1995) Methodology for the assessment of vulnerability of South Pacific island countries to sea-level rise and climate change. J Global Environ Eng 1:101–125Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Integrated Research System for Sustainability Science, United Nations University, and Springer 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. Romieu
    • 1
    Email author
  • T. Welle
    • 2
  • S. Schneiderbauer
    • 3
  • M. Pelling
    • 4
  • C. Vinchon
    • 1
  1. 1.BRGMOrléans Cedex 2France
  2. 2.Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) United Nations UniversityBonnGermany
  3. 3.Institute for Applied Remote SensingEURACBolzanoItaly
  4. 4.Department of GeographyKing’s College LondonStrandLondon

Personalised recommendations