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close this bookEco-restructuring: Implications for sustainable development (UNU, 1998, 417 pages)
close this folderPart I: Restructuring resource use
close this folder2. The biophysical basis of eco-restructuring: An overview of current relations between human economic activities and the global system
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentThe earth system
View the documentThe climate system and climatic change
View the documentClimatic change and vulnerability
View the documentBiological diversity
View the documentFresh water
View the documentSoils
View the documentThe solid earth (lithosphere)
View the documentLand-cover and land-use changes
View the documentHuman impacts and industrial metabolism
View the documentThe case of West Africa
View the documentOutlook

Climatic change and vulnerability

The concept of vulnerability is central to any research into climatic change. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has defined the objective of its climate programme as "determining the characteristics of human societies at different levels of development which make them either specially vulnerable or specially resilient to climatic variability and change." Vulnerability can be seen as "the degree to which a system may react adversely to the occurrence of a hazardous event" (Timmerman 1981). This concept has often been used in relation to climatic and global change research (Kates et al. 1985; Liverman 1991), being linked to terms such as resilience, marginality, susceptibility, adaptability, fragility, and criticality.

In the tropics especially, a wide-ranging integrative approach encompassing all aspects of vulnerability is needed. This includes biophysical monitoring, modeling, and studies on the transformation of the physical environment. In this respect, only an improved understanding of the socio-economic, cultural, and demographic factors will provide the necessary insight into the situation of social groups at risk. In the regional case-study on Africa, below, further reference is made to this.