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Assessing Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate-related Risks A Flavour of SEI Activities. Frank Thomalla with contributions from Tom Downing, Richard Klein, Sivan Kartha & Matthias Nordström. Stockholm Environment Institute.

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Assessing Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate-related Risks

A Flavour of SEI Activities

Frank Thomalla

with contributions from Tom Downing, Richard Klein, Sivan Kartha & Matthias Nordström

Stockholm Environment Institute

Resilience, Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change: Research Priorities

ECBI Fellows Seminar, SEI, Stockholm, 26 August 2006


Why vulnerability assessment?

  • Robust and well-developed conceptual and analytical framework;
  • Integrated trans-disciplinary and cross-sectoral analysis;
  • Identifies regions and peoples at greatest risk from environmental and socio-economic changes;
  • Investigates the role of socio-economic and environmental factors in creating differentiated impacts across specific groups or regions;
  • Documents the agency and resilience of people by investigating the mechanisms that facilitate/constrain their ability to cope, adapt or recover from stresses;
  • Focuses on the perspectives and experiences of the poorest and most marginalised individuals and groups.

Research for policy:

Recognising the value of the process

Participatory research approaches and methodologies:

  • maintain strategic long-term collaborative partnerships involving scientists, practitioners, decision-makers, and civil society;
  • define research priorities with partners and policy makers;
  • promote mutual learning and joint ownership throughout the project;
  • maintain continuity and sustained investment.

Resource mapping in a Laotian village (Thomalla)

Focus group meeting in a Laotian village (Thomalla)


Key questions relevant to policy

  • What are the key factors contributing to vulnerability?
  • Is there a systematic causal structure of vulnerability?
  • What processes occur at what scales and what is their relative importance?
  • To what extent is vulnerability specific to location, situation, ecosystem, or sector?

Children playing in a village in Laos (Thomalla)

Mode of transport on Mekong, Laos (Thomalla)


Challenges of translating research into policy: 1

Methodological issues:

  • Plethora of local case studies of vulnerability;
  • Place-based and fragmented experience;
  • Scale linkages and cross-scale dynamics between local manifestations of vulnerability and risk construction at larger scales;
  • Assessing human agency and its limitations.

Challenges of translating research into policy: 2

Integration of different knowledge:

  • Risk & vulnerability
  • Livelihoods
  • Resilience

Integration of different scientific and practitioner communities:

  • Disaster risk reduction
  • Poverty reduction
  • Resource management
  • Climate change adaptation

Challenges of translating research into policy: 3

Bridging scales of assessment and practice:

  • Mismatch between scales of decision-making and assessment;
  • Policy frameworks for resource management do not consider local livelihoods;
  • Need to address dynamic processes of vulnerability in static policy frameworks;
  • Need to consider interactions between social and environmental processes to build resilience to future shocks.

Challenges of translating research into policy: 4

Capacity building, outreach and communication:

  • Major gaps in communicating information relevant to climate policy between researchers and policymakers;
  • Huge demand for training, technical support and capacity building;
  • Lack of information and scientific literature from and on developing countries;

From assessment to policy development and applications

  • To improve the science-policy interface in the provision and use of sound information and knowledge on climate change.
  • To build capacity throughout global networks to support policies, strategies and measures on climate change.
  • To demonstrate, assess and disseminate emerging scientific findings through innovative research.


UNEP Collaborating Centre on Climate Adaptation

  • Develop strong partnerships to achieve societies and economies that are resilient to the climatic risks of the future.
  • Objectives:
    • Build international research capacity and advice on effective means to manage present and future climatic risks;
    • Enhance regional capacity in developing countries through partnerships of independent research organisations;
    • Disseminate best practice and advisory services.


Global Initiative on Climate Change (GICC)

  • Strategic collaboration between SEI, IIED, and IISD to establish a global partner network that integrates climate change responses into mainstream development policy, planning and practice in developing countries.
  • Objectives:
    • To build capacity on the links between climate change and sustainable livelihoods, adaptive management and resilience building.
    • To support governments and civil society on strategies and options for an effective and equitable post-2012 climate regime.
    • To enable countries to adopt climate policy and governance options, such as carbon credits and markets.
    • To develop initiatives with local partners and stakeholders in key target areas, such as highly vulnerable or highly dynamic regions.

Atlas of Climate Change

  • Signs of change
  • Drivers of change
  • Threats to the environment
  • Implications for human health and well-being
  • International and national responses to change
  • Actions to reduce emissions

Some questions to the ECBI Fellows:

  • Where do you think are gaps in research and communication?
  • What kind of information and process would be most useful for you?
  • What are the priority issues that might be addressed by the UNEP CCA?
  • How can we bridge with the realities of your daily work?
  • Would you be interested in learning more about specific projects?
  • Would you be interested in becoming a collaborative partner?