Assessment of Vulnerability to Climate Change Using Indicators: Methodological Challenges

  • Fahim N. TonmoyEmail author
  • Abbas El-Zein


Climate change vulnerability assessment (CCVA) can help policy makers incorporate climate futures in planning. We discuss some of the most important methodological challenges facing CCVA, including geographical and temporal scales, aggregation, and nonlinearity. CCVA literature is large and multidisciplinary and appears to stem from a number of different paradigms (risk assessment, natural disaster management, urban planning, etc.). It is therefore difficult to elicit major directions, findings, and methodologies from this body of work. We study a sample of peer-reviewed CCVA publications and investigate the extent to which the CCVA literature is foregrounding and engaging with these methodological problems. We find that:
  1. 1.

    Critical scrutiny of prevalent assessment methodologies and development of new ones remain limited since only 10 % of the studies focus on such issues. This is despite the fact that many scholars have raised questions about the methodological aspects of vulnerability assessment.

  2. 2.

    Among the studies that aggregate indicators and consider both the biophysical and socioeconomic processes generating vulnerability, 59 % use methods based on multiple attribute utility theory (MAUT) such as arithmetic mean, geometric mean, or GIS-based MAUT, approaches that have strict theoretical requirements which are hardly met in the context of CCVA.

  3. 3.

    Although a number of theoretical papers have argued that indicator-based vulnerability assessment is likely to be most valid at smaller rather than larger geographical scales, only 17 % of studies are conducted at local scale.


We argue that, at this stage of development of vulnerability assessment, methodological concerns ought to receive more attention in the literature, lacking which the scientific validity of assessments will remain doubtful.


Climate change Vulnerability assessment Meta-analysis Methodological challenge Indicator 



Advanced terrestrial ecosystem analysis and modeling


Climate change vulnerability assessment


Geographic information system


Indicator-based vulnerability assessment


Intergovernmental panel on climate change


Multiple attribute utility theory


Socio-ecological system



Fahim Tonmoy is a recipient of an Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) from the Australian Government. He has also received a top-up scholarship for his Ph.D. studies awarded by Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) Climate Adaptation Flagship (CAF).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of SydneyDarlingtonAustralia

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