Social vulnerability to climate change: a review of concepts and evidence

Abstract

This article provides a review of recent scientific literature on social vulnerability to climate change, aiming to determine which social and demographic groups, across a wide range of geographical locations, are the most vulnerable to climate change impacts within four well-being dimensions: health, safety, food security, and displacement. We analyze how vulnerability changes over time and ask whether there is evidence of critical thresholds beyond which social vulnerability drastically changes. The review finds that climate change is expected to exacerbate current vulnerabilities and inequalities. The findings confirm concerns about climate justice, especially its intergenerational dimensions. For example, deficiencies in early childhood may limit future educational and income generation opportunities. Evidence of clear thresholds is rare and is mainly related to the vulnerability of different age groups, household income level, and the impacts of different degrees of global warming.

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Acknowledgments

Ilona M. Otto greatefully acknowledges research funding received from the National Science Foundation of China (Project No. 71273008; 71350110520) and funding from the Earth League’s EarthDoc Program.

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Correspondence to Ilona M. Otto.

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Otto, I.M., Reckien, D., Reyer, C.P.O. et al. Social vulnerability to climate change: a review of concepts and evidence. Reg Environ Change 17, 1651–1662 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-017-1105-9

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Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Differential impacts
  • Social vulnerability
  • Thresholds