How do we assess vulnerability to climate change in India? A systematic review of literature

Abstract

In countries like India where multiple risks interact with socio-economic differences to create and sustain vulnerability, assessing the vulnerability of people, places, and systems to climate change is a critical tool to prioritise adaptation. In India, several vulnerability assessment tools have been designed spanning multiple disciplines, by multiple actors, and at multiple scales. However, their conceptual, methodological, and disciplinary underpinnings, and resulting implications on who is identified as vulnerable, have not been interrogated. Addressing this gap, we systematically review peer-reviewed publications (n = 78) and grey literature (n = 42) to characterise how vulnerability to climate change is assessed in India. We frame our enquiry against four questions: (1) How is vulnerability conceptualised (vulnerability of whom/what, vulnerability to what), (2) who assesses vulnerability, (3) how is vulnerability assessed (methodology, scale), and (4) what are the implications of methodology on outcomes of the assessment. Our findings emphasise that methods to assess vulnerability to climate change are embedded in the disciplinary traditions, methodological approaches, and often-unstated motivations of those designing the assessment. Further, while most assessments acknowledge the importance of scalar and temporal aspects of vulnerability, we find few examples of it being integrated in methodology. Such methodological myopia potentially overlooks how social differentiation, ecological shifts, and institutional dynamics construct and perpetuate vulnerability. Finally, we synthesise the strengths and weaknesses of current vulnerability assessment methods in India and identify a predominance of research in rural landscapes with a relatively lower coverage in urban and peri-urban settlements, which are key interfaces of transitions.

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Fig. 1

Source Adapted from Adger (2006), Füssel (2007), Eakin and Luers (2006), and Ribot (2009)

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Notes

  1. 1.

    We acknowledge that the literature around risk has evolved substantially from a hazard-based, techno-centric focus to an approach that understands risks as intricately linked to physical, social, economic and institutional vulnerability and inclusive of endogenous risk.

  2. 2.

    A construct or conceptual framework is defined as the way in which vulnerability was defined or explained by the author.

  3. 3.

    Notable exceptions include Singh (2014), and Nair (2013), and to some extent Ranjan and Narain (2012).

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Acknowledgments

This work was carried out under the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA), with financial support from the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DfID) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada. The views expressed in this work are those of the creators and do not necessarily represent those of DfID and IDRC or its Board of Governors. The authors acknowledge comments from Blane Harvey, Sumetee Pahwa Gajjar, Aromar Revi, Garima Jain, and Amir Bazaz on an earlier draft of the paper. Thank you goes to Manish Gautam and Bhavana Rao for inputs on identifying vulnerability assessments in India and to Priyadarshini Shetty and Nilakshi Chatterji for GIS support.

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Singh, C., Deshpande, T. & Basu, R. How do we assess vulnerability to climate change in India? A systematic review of literature. Reg Environ Change 17, 527–538 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-016-1043-y

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Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Vulnerability assessment
  • Systematic literature review
  • India