IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

19.1.2 Conceptual framework for the identification and assessment of key vulnerabilities Meaning of ‘key vulnerability’

Vulnerability to climate change is the degree to which geophysical, biological and socio-economic systems are susceptible to, and unable to cope with, adverse impacts of climate change (see Chapter 17; Füssel and Klein, 2006). The term ‘vulnerability’ may therefore refer to the vulnerable system itself, e.g., low-lying islands or coastal cities; the impact to this system, e.g., flooding of coastal cities and agricultural lands or forced migration; or the mechanism causing these impacts, e.g., disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet.

Many impacts, vulnerabilities and risks merit particular attention by policy-makers due to characteristics that might make them key. Key impacts that may be associated with key vulnerabilities are found in many social, economic, biological and geophysical systems, and various tabulations of risks, impacts and vulnerabilities have been provided in the literature (e.g., Smith et al., 2001; Corfee-Morlot and Höhne, 2003; Hare, 2003; Oppenheimer and Petsonk, 2003, 2005; ECF, 2004; Hitz and Smith, 2004; Leemans and Eickhout, 2004; Schellnhuber et al., 2006). Key vulnerabilities are associated with many climate-sensitive systems, including, for example, food supply, infrastructure, health, water resources, coastal systems, ecosystems, global biogeochemical cycles, ice sheets, and modes of oceanic and atmospheric circulation (see Section 19.3).