Conceptual advances on global scale assessments of vulnerability: Informing investments for coastal populations at risk of climate change

Since the 1990s, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has used global assessments of vulnerability to inform investment and action against the effects of climate change. Beyond the IPCC, others have undertaken global assessments to understand the vulnerability of coastal areas to climate change. Eight global vulnerability assessments are compared to understand similarities and differences in their results and the metrics used to construct a vulnerability index. Variations in objectives, conceptualizations of vulnerability, operationalization of the concepts, scope and depth of data drawn upon lead to contradictory rankings of priority areas for climate action between assessments. The increased complexity and scope of indicators make it difficult to untangle the root causes of such differences in rankings. It is also difficult to identify the degree to which climate change influences vulnerability rankings compared to other factors such as local environmental conditions and the capacity of populations to deal with environmental change. The way to undertake global assessments needs to be reshaped to better inform planning of international development along different objectives. Global level assessments need to be simplified and harmonized to better isolate the impact of climate change specific drivers. Decision-makers would make better use of such global assessments as scoping studies rather than expect comprehensive and robust priorities for investment. Such scoping studies can help target locations where supplementary, in-depth local analyses need to be conducted. At the local level, the possibility to collect context-specific information, particularly on adaptive capacity, allows the robust assessment of vulnerability.

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