Sustainability Science

, Volume 6, Issue 2, pp 177–202 | Cite as

Putting vulnerability to climate change on the map: a review of approaches, benefits, and risks

  • Benjamin L. PrestonEmail author
  • Emma J. Yuen
  • Richard M. Westaway
Review Article


There is growing demand among stakeholders across public and private institutions for spatially-explicit information regarding vulnerability to climate change at the local scale. However, the challenges associated with mapping the geography of climate change vulnerability are non-trivial, both conceptually and technically, suggesting the need for more critical evaluation of this practice. Here, we review climate change vulnerability mapping in the context of four key questions that are fundamental to assessment design. First, what are the goals of the assessment? A review of published assessments yields a range of objective statements that emphasize problem orientation or decision-making about adaptation actions. Second, how is the assessment of vulnerability framed? Assessments vary with respect to what values are assessed (vulnerability of what) and the underlying determinants of vulnerability that are considered (vulnerability to what). The selected frame ultimately influences perceptions of the primary driving forces of vulnerability as well as preferences regarding management alternatives. Third, what are the technical methods by which an assessment is conducted? The integration of vulnerability determinants into a common map remains an emergent and subjective practice associated with a number of methodological challenges. Fourth, who participates in the assessment and how will it be used to facilitate change? Assessments are often conducted under the auspices of benefiting stakeholders, yet many lack direct engagement with stakeholders. Each of these questions is reviewed in turn by drawing on an illustrative set of 45 vulnerability mapping studies appearing in the literature. A number of pathways for placing vulnerability mapping on a more robust footing are also identified.


Vulnerability assessment Mapping Climate change Adaptation 


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Copyright information

© Integrated Research System for Sustainability Science, United Nations University, and Springer 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Benjamin L. Preston
    • 1
    Email author
  • Emma J. Yuen
    • 2
  • Richard M. Westaway
    • 3
  1. 1.Environmental Sciences DivisionOak Ridge National LaboratoryOak RidgeUSA
  2. 2.CSIRO Climate Adaptation FlagshipAspendaleAustralia
  3. 3.IMS ConsultingBristolUK

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