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Integrating social vulnerability into research on food systems and global change Stuart Franklin – SEI Oxford. Research questions. What are the conceptual underpinnings integrating human and natural vulnerability and global environmental change?

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Integrating social vulnerability into research on food systems and global changeStuart Franklin – SEI Oxford
research questions
Research questions
  • What are the conceptual underpinnings integrating human and natural vulnerability and global environmental change?
  • What criteria should be used to evaluate vulnerability in order to develop an integrated social/natural science research framework?
  • What case examples highlight the strengths and weaknesses of different vulnerability paradigms?
towards a narrative theory of climate change vulnerability
Towards a narrative theory of climate change vulnerability
  • The conceptualisation of climate change impacts/vulnerability represented by the IPCC is 10 years behind hazards theory.
  • A narrative theory of vulnerability helps us to understand not simply how, for example, food availability and access may be under stress in a region or locality. It helps us to understand how and why such stress exists now or may exist in the future.
ipcc definition
IPCC definition
  • IPCC (2001: 9) define vulnerability as “the degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climatic variability and extremes. Vulnerability is a function of the character, magnitude, and rate of climate change and variation to which a system is exposed, its sensitivity, and its adaptive capacity.”
from descriptive to narrative approaches to vulnerability
From descriptive to narrative approaches to vulnerability
  • History has no theory
  • Political ecology aims to divine processes of social, economic, political and environmental change
  • It’s theoretical basis lies in its commitment to a narrative understanding of social injustice
  • It seeks to identify winners and losers and aspects of risk within processes of change
emergence of political ecology
Emergence of political ecology

European colonial expansion

“Silent Spring”

Rachel Carson



Dependency theory



1960s and 70s

1983 “Silent Violence” Michael Watts.

1985 “The Wheat Trap” Andrae and Beckman.

1985 “The Politics of Soil Erosion . .”

Piers Blaikie



pressure release model after blaikie et al 1994 wisner et al 2003 vulnerability context of hazards



Dynamic Pressures

Unsafe Conditions


PRESSURE RELEASE MODEL(After Blaikie et al. 1994/Wisner et al. 2003)Vulnerability – context of hazards

Narrative theory: problem – people not living organisms

epidemiology and vulnerability
Epidemiology and vulnerability
  • Attributable risk: we are all vulnerable to climate change.
  • Particular risk: some are more vulnerable than others
  • Therefore: the notion of differential vulnerability
general and particular vulnerability
General and particular vulnerability
  • Making connections between

V = the general

V = the particular

In connection with global environmental change. The term ‘global’ masks the particular local stresses and stressors.

demeritt 2003 challenging the global in global warming
Demeritt (2003) Challenging the ‘global’ in global warming.
  • “Their global scaling and universalizing appeal conceal the uneven political economy of GHG emissions by divorcing the problem of their accumulation in the atmosphere from related social and economic matters. Thus, "luxury" emissions of GHGs from fossil fuel use in developed countries are analysed in the same abstract and universal scientific terms as "survival" emissions from agriculture in developing countries. These universalizing abstractions can then be used to legitimate the specific political program of international emissions trading and other climate change mitigation measures in the warm and fuzzy glow of global citizenship”.
issues of scale
Issues of Scale

Figure 2. Scalar mapping of the impact of the 1983 Krakatoa volcanic eruption. Krakatoa-linked climate change vulnerability (in a general sense) had a global reach. In a particular sense people were differentially vulnerable to, for example, cold or crop failure.













  • Figure 3. Actor Network Theory: Framing food systems (A,B,C)
  • minus externalities (X,Y,Z) and (b) plus externalities (after Callon 1999). In the case of
  • Kloppenberg’s (1988) and Pollan’s (2003) unfolding analysis of hybrid corn in the US,
  • phenomena such as mass-urbanization, collapse of small-scale farming, over-production,
  • even obesity are externalized in the profit driven world of industrialized agriculture.


National economy


Eg. Legal ethics

(Corporate negligence)

Factory director




Eg. Medical ethics,

Democratic regime






Eg. Minamata Disease victims, fishermen





Regional economy



Figure 4. Actor Network Theory: Framing contractual systems between (A: the State, B: the local State, C: the firm producing waste methyl mercury) -

(a)minus externalities (X,Y,Z); (b) plus certain externalities; (c) plus other externalities (Xn,Yn,Zn). Based on Minamata Disease case example.

towards regional attribution new science new methods new theory
Towards regional attribution. New science=new methods=new theory
  • Only recently have climate modellers begun to focus on regional attribution. Funding and problems of liability.
  • First papers out now: Karoly, D. et al. 2003. Science 14/11/03. Human influence to North American climate. Surface temperature changes.
  • Work on glacier retreat in Kazakhstan etc. Andes and Alps.
  • Work on UK floods of 2000. Insured loss of £35-50 million. Probabilistic attribution. Atmospheric physics.
  • Work on Central European heatwave 2003. Hottest summer for at least 500 years. 11,000 extra deaths first 2 wks August in France. Univ. Bern. Average rise of 2.8°C 1998-2003. Paper to appear in Nature.
  • All findings should be temperature-linked. Poor modelling of precipitation. Problems of certainty.
  • The next step might be litigation.
rights issues to consider
Rights issues to consider
  • UN Declaration of Human Rights (1948): Article 25: 1. “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well being . . .” No right to clean, healthy environment.
  • Distributive justice – John Rawls (1971)

-justice as fairness. ‘Moral persons are entitled to equal justice’ - equal rights to equal basic liberties above regulating economic and social inequalities. Opposed to Gandhi (1940) equal distrib.

Problems with Rawls: social justice focuses on material goods, not agency/ decision-making power. Also, top-down idea. Who chooses who is entitled. Iris Marion Young – Justice and the Politics of Difference (1990)

  • A theory of human need (Doyal and Gough 1991)

Relativist vs. universal understanding of human need. Universal goal = avoidance of harm. Vulnerability = susceptibility to harm.

  • Combine universal basic needs: physical health/critical automy with

relative appraisal of intermediate needs such as cultural skills.

v ulnerability linked to resilience
(v)ulnerability linked to resilience
  • (v)ulnerability comes from lack of resilience
  • Resilience implies:

Nurturing diversity and connectivity

Creating opportunities for self-organization

Learning to live with change and uncertainty

Adaptation involves capacity building with the aim of enhancing resilience

livelihoods approach
Livelihoods approach
  • A livelihood: comprises the capabilities, assets and activities required for a means of living: a livelihood is sustainable [when it can] cope and recover from stress and shocks, maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets, and provide sustainable livelihoods for the next generation; and which contributes net benefits to other livelihoods at local and global levels in the long and short term’ (Chambers and Conway 1992, pp.7-8).
  • Global Environmental Change and Food Systems
  • Sponsored by
    • International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change
    • International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme
    • World Climate Research Programme
  • Goal: To determine strategies to cope with the impacts of global environmental change on food systems and to assess the environmental and socioeconomic consequences of adaptation responses.
gecafs in collaboration with
GECAFS: in collaboration with:
  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  • World Meteorological Organization of the United Nations
  • Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research
  • Stockholm Environment Institute
ongoing ehb research contributing to gecafs arch
Ongoing EHB research contributing to GECAFS arch
  • Literature review
  • Methods papers: Expanded tool kit to come into play. Actor-based matrix, knowledge elicitation
  • Monograph: “Towards a narrative theory of climate change vulnerability”
  • Development of a research agenda
  • Need for case experience
case studies linking the global to the local
Case studies: linking the global to the local
  • Adaptation to heat stress on livestock and fisheries in Africa
  • Adaptation of storm surge activity in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh
  • Adaptation to diminishing glacial melt water in Bhutan and Tajikistan
  • Conceptual underpinnings: narrative rather than descriptive approaches.
  • Criteria: a) both universal and relative approaches to needs and vulnerability; b) theorized connection between global climate forcing and local impacts.
  • Case examples: a) Pressure Release Model; b) Actor Network Theory – the problem of framing within systems.