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 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Italia, Milan 2009

Authors and Affiliations

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

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