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

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  • Vulnerability, risk, and adaptation in a changing climate
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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.

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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).

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Correspondence to E. Romieu.

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Edited by Fabrice Renaud, UNU-Institute for Environment and Human Security (EHS), Germany.

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Romieu, E., Welle, T., Schneiderbauer, S. et al. Vulnerability assessment within climate change and natural hazard contexts: revealing gaps and synergies through coastal applications. Sustain Sci 5, 159–170 (2010).

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