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Norgaard I 208
Vulnerability Assessment/Criteria/Ecological theories: The foregoing review suggests five specific criteria that assessments should satisfy to answer the various critiques of past scholarship (Schröter et al. 2005b)(1).
First, the knowledge base
Norgaard I 209
engaged for analysis should be varied and flexible. This criterion goes beyond the standard call for interdisciplinary scientific research. Vulnerability researchers should also collaborate with stakeholders to learn their perspectives and concerns. This imperative may require serious engagement with indigenous, or local, knowledge—despite difficulties in testing such information within a classical scientific framework. This approach furthermore argues that it may be valuable to engage with the stakeholders as co‐equals when generating the research design (Cash et al. 2003)(2).
Second, the scale at which the coupled human‐environment system is studied is generally ‘place‐based,’ meaning that local‐scale vulnerabilities are examined in the context of processes and outcomes at other scales. Most GCVAs [Global Change Vulnerability Assessments] examine the consequences of large‐scale processes (e.g. climate change) at smaller scales, and are therefore multi‐scale in scope, by definition. Yet few GCVAs have explicitly examined the roles of processes from multiple scales simultaneously, and instead have typically focused on processes and outcomes at the local scale.
Third, the potential drivers of vulnerability are understood to be possibly multiple and interacting. It would be a mistake to assume that outcomes associated with climate variability and change are necessarily the only issues of concern for a given population or human‐environment system. In fact, stakeholders may rank daily matters associated with poverty, war, or health on a par or ahead of climate issues. O'Brien et al. (2004a)(3) formalize this idea with the concept of ‘Double Exposure’ (see Leichenko and O'Brien (2008)(4) for an expanded discussion), and apply it to the case of climate change and trade liberalization policies in Indian agriculture.
Fourth, understanding adaptive capacity is a fundamental part of understanding vulnerability. Adaptive capacity is included as a vulnerability dimension to permit separation of human‐environment systems that are exposed and sensitive to an external stress or perturbation but cannot successfully restructure or recover, from those systems that
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respond to the impacts in ways that give plausible hope for avoiding a future disaster repeat by limiting exposures, reducing sensitivities, and/or strengthening response options and adaptive capabilities. Yet vulnerability research has shown that adaptive capacity may vary within a human‐environment system, depending on demographic, social, economic, or other factors. The dimension is framed as adaptive capacity rather than ‘adaptations’ because the adaptation options of some individuals or groups may be constrained by inadequate resources (including information), or political‐institutional barriers. Moreover, in some cases it is difficult for researchers to know whether a given adaptation is good or bad; focusing on capacity, and capacity building, reframes the issue in terms of decision processes rather than outcomes.
Fifth, an understanding of historical vulnerabilities should be linked to scenarios of future social and environmental conditions. The primary objective of GCVAs is ‘to inform the decision‐making of specific stakeholders about options for adapting to the effects of global change’ (Schröter et al. 2005b: 575)(1). As such, some attempt at extrapolating past vulnerabilities, or projecting new vulnerabilities associated with new trends not observed in the historical record, is necessary.



1. Schröter, D., Polsky, C. and Patt, A. 2005b. Assessing vulnerabilities to the effects of global change: An eight step approach. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 10(4): 573–95.
2. Cash, D. W., Clark, W. C., Alcock, F., Dickson, N. M., Eckley, N., Guston, D. H., Jäger, J., and Mitchell, R. B. 2003. Knowledge systems for sustainable development. Proceedings, National Academy of Sciences 100(14): 8086–91.
3. O’Brian, K., Sygna, L., and Haugen, J. E. 2004b. Vulnerable or resilient? A multi‐scale assessment of climate impacts and vulnerability in Norway. Climatic Change 64: 193–225.
4. Leichenko, R., and O'Brien, K. 2008. Environmental Change and Globalization: Double Exposures. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



Polsky, Collin and Hallie Eakin: “Global Change Vulnerability Assessments: Definitions, Challenges, and Opportunities”, In: John S. Dryzek, Richard B. Norgaard, David Schlosberg (eds.) (2011): The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Ecological Theories
Norgaard I
Richard Norgaard
John S. Dryzek
The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society Oxford 2011


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