Mathknow pp 253-263 | Cite as

Vulnerability to climate change: mathematics as a language to clarify concepts

  • Sarah Wolf
Part of the MS&A book series (MS&A, volume 3)


Vulnerability is a central concept in climate change related research. Yet, confusion is asserted in the terminology. This chapter presents a formal framework of vulnerability that expresses concepts using mathematics. This requires assumptions to be made explicit and therefore enhances clarity.

The starting point of the framework is the concept of vulnerability in everyday language, which is analyzed into three primitives: an entity, its uncertain future evolution and a notion of harm. These are translated into mathematical concepts, upon which vulnerability is then mathematically defined as an aggregate measuring function. The scientific concept vulnerability is formalized as a refinement of this definition.

The mathematical definitions, general and precise, explain the confusion in the terminology by an interpretation of vulnerability studies in terms of the framework. A gap is revealed between the theoretical definitions that are put forward and the measurements made, and equivocalities concerning the measurements are illustrated.


Vulnerability Assessment Social Vulnerability Aggregation Function Disaster Risk Reduction Formal Framework 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Brooks, N.: Vulnerability, risk and adaptation: A conceptual framework. Tyndall Center Working Paper 38 (2003)Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Füssel, H.M., Klein, R.J.T.: Climate change vulnerability assessments: an evolution of conceptual thinking. Climatic Change 75(3), 301–329 (2006)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Hinkel, J.: Transdisciplinary Knowledge Integration. Cases from Integrated Assessment and Vulnerability Assessment. Ph. D. thesis, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands (2008)Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Ionescu, C.: Vulnerability modeling and monadic dynamical systems. Ph. D. thesis, Freie Universität Berlin (2008, in press)Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Ionescu, C., Klein, R.J.T., Hinkel, J., Kavi Kumar, K.S., Klein, R.: Towards a formal framework of vulnerability to climate change. Environmental Modeling and Assessment (2008). doi: 10.1007/s10666-008-9179-xGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Parry, M.L., Canziani, O.F., Palutikof, J.P., van der Linden, P.J., Hanson, C.E. (eds.): IPCC: Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK (2007)Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Janssen, M.A., Ostrom, E.: Resilience, vulnerability and adaptation: A crosscutting theme of the international human dimensions programme on global environmental change. Global Environmental Change 16(3), 237–239 (2006). EditorialCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Nakićenović, N., Swart, R. (eds.): Special Report on Emissions Scenarios. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report. Cambridge University Press (2000)Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Schneider, S.H.: Can we estimate the likelihood of climatic changes at 2100? Climatic Change 52, 414–451 (2002)Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Suppes, P.: The desirability of formalization in science. The Journal of Philosophy 65(20), 651–664 (1968)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Thywissen, K.: Components of Risk, A Comparative Glossary. SOURCE — Studies Of the University: Research, Counsel, Education 2 (2006)Google Scholar
  12. 12.
  13. 13.
    Wolf, S., Lincke, D., Hinkel, J., Ionescu, C., Bisaro, S.: Concept clarification and computational tools — a formal framework of vulnerability. FAVAIA Working Paper 8. Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Potsdam, Germany (2008). Available at favaiaworkingpaper8.pdfGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Italia, Milan 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sarah Wolf
    • 1
  1. 1.Potsdam Institute for ClimateImpact Research (PIK)PotsdamGermany

Personalised recommendations