Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

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17.3. Vulnerability and Adaptation Potential 17.3.1. Setting the Context

The potential impacts of climate change on small island states discussed in Section 17.2 have given rise to considerable concern. Relevant chapters in the First Assessment Report (FAR; Tsyban et al., 1990) and SAR (Bijlsma, 1996) and in the Special Report on Regional Impacts of Climate Change (Nurse et al., 1998) already concluded that low-lying small islands are among the most vulnerable countries in the world. A similar conclusion is reached in this Third Assessment Report. Their overall vulnerability is shown to be a function of the degree of exposure of these states to climate change and their limited capacity to adapt to projected impacts.

This section assesses the relevant literature on the vulnerability of small island states that has become available since the SAR, including an overview of available country studies. In addition, this section pays particular attention to adaptation. Whereas Bijlsma (1996) and Nurse et al. (1998) focuse on available adaptation options, this section takes a process-oriented approach to adaptation and recognizes adaptive capacity as an important determinant of vulnerability.

17.3.2. Generic Issues

Many definitions of vulnerability and adaptation exist in the literature (see Chapter 18). However, this report defines vulnerability to climate change as "the degree to which a system is sensitive to and unable to cope with adverse impacts of climatic stimuli. Vulnerability is a function of a system's exposure and its adaptive capacity." Adaptation is the "adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli, or their effects" (see Chapter 2). Vulnerability therefore is a function of potential impacts and adaptive capacity, and adaptation refers to both natural and human system responses. Whereas the previous section focused on impacts and responses of natural systems, this section discusses the relevance of adaptation for human systems in a small islands context.

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