The level of vulnerability of a society exposed to climate change impacts is contextual, and depends on many factors.
Vulnerability should be understood in the context of a systemâ€™s â€˜attributes of concernâ€™ to a hazard in a temporal reference (Fussel, 2004).
For example, we can understand vulnerability in terms of a human-environment system, a geographical region or an economic sector; or in reference to a particular hazard (cyclones, floods, sea level rise, and so on); or as per the time frame.
The following figure lists the various contexts of vulnerability.
This shows that there would be a difference in the degree of vulnerability not only across systems, but even within any particular system; this is also known as differential vulnerability.
Some of the key factors that determine the vulnerability of a system exposed to climate change impacts are as follows.
- Population (relative to current productivity, income and natural resources)
- Ecosystem Goods and Services: Fragmented and degraded ecological base will make the system more susceptible to the impacts of climate change
- Dependence: Over-dependence on climate-sensitive sectors, such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and so on
- Level of economic wealth
- Inequities in access to resources and wealth among groups
- Weak socio-cultural (rigidity in land-use practices, social conflicts), infrastructural, financial/market (uncertain pricing, non-availability of credit, lack of sufficient credit), legal and governance structures
- Technological, skill-related and human resource bottlenecks
- Poor pre-existing health conditions
Having understood these factors, it is worth knowing which vulnerabilities to give more importance to.
Developing countries, SIDS (Small Island Developing States), people living in arid, semi-arid lands, water-limited or flood-prone areas, as well as countries and sectors are heavily dependent on the climate-sensitive sectors, such as agriculture, water resources, forestry, fisheries, and so on, which are particularly at risk.
Further, when resources and wealth are distributed unevenly, it affects the ability to cope with the impacts, thereby exacerbating these vulnerabilities. Poor, developing countries are more vulnerable to impacts of climate change, and have lesser adaptive capacities than developed nations.