Know Climate Change

Adaptation and Mitigation



Vulnerability of a system refers to its physical, social, and economic aspects.

According to IPCC, vulnerability is a function of the character, magnitude and rate of climate variation to which a system is exposed; its sensitivity; and adaptive capacity (IPCC, 2001).

From the above definition, we can note that IPCC uses three terms to define vulnerability – exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. Let us know more about these terms.

Click each term to view its detail.

  • Exposure
  • Sensitivity
  • Adaptive Capacity

Hence, vulnerability is a function of all the three terms.

Mathematically, this can be denoted as

Vulnerability = f (Exposure, Sensitivity, Adaptive Capacity)

In other words, the greater the exposure or sensitivity, the greater is the vulnerability. However, adaptive capacity is inversely related to vulnerability. So, the greater the adaptive capacity, the lesser is the vulnerability.

Therefore, reducing vulnerability would involve reducing exposure through specific measures like building a dyke in case of sea level rise, or increasing adaptive capacity through activities that are closely aligned with development priorities.

The table below is an example of the effect of climate change on livelihoods, and illustrates how interplay of these impacts affects the vulnerability of the system.

Changes in mean climate, variability, extreme events and sea level rise

Effects on livelihoods

Impact on vulnerability

Increased temperature and changes in precipitation reduces agricultural and natural resources

Changes in precipitation run-off and variability leads to greater water stress

Increased incidence or intensity of climate related extremes such as water stress

Temperature, water and vegetation changes resulting in increasing prevalence of disease

Direct impacts of climatic shocks and stresses such as livelihood assets, health, food and water security

Increased pressure on Coping strategies and social protection measures

Reduced ability recover due to increased frequency of climatic shocks or increased intensity of climatic stresses

Increased vulnerability due to:

  • Lower capacity to prepare;
  • Lower capacity to cope; and
  • Lower capacity to recover from climatic and non-climatic shocks and stresses

Source: DFID, 2004

We will now study the factors that determine vulnerability.