Discussion Paper - Environment and Natural Resources Program, Belfer Center

Assessing Vulnerability to Global Environmental Risks

Report of the Workshop on Vulnerability to Global Environmental Change: Challenges for Research, Assessment and Decision Making. 22-25 May 2000, Airlie House, Warrenton, Virginia.


The last several years have witnessed a significant evolution in what society wants to know about global environmental risks such as climate change, ozone depletion, and biodiversity loss. Until recently, most scientific assessments of such risks focused on the anatomy of conceivable environmental changes themselves, while devoting relatively little attention to the ecosystems and societies the changes might endanger. Recently, however, questions about the vulnerability of social and ecological systems are emerging as a central focus of policy-driven assessments of global environmental risks. Meeting the growing demand for a deeper and more useful understanding of vulnerability to global change will require a dual strategy in which initiatives targeted on immediate assessment needs and research opportunities complement and feed into a longer term program for enhancing relevant knowledge bases, assessment practices, and institutional capacities. This paper makes recommendations for the design of such a strategy that emerged from an ongoing conversation between communities of decision-oriented vulnerability assessors for global environmental change issues, research-oriented vulnerability scholars generally focusing on regional scale human-environment interactions, and those conducting vulnerability assessments that assist in targeting improved intervention and mitigation strategies. It sketches an integrated framework for vulnerability-based assessments of climate and other global changes. By virtue of both concept and design this framework has the potential to improve significantly the production of policy-relevant insights into the social and environmental implications of global environmental change. This paper was prepared as a brief summary of the Workshop on Vulnerability to Global Environmental Change: Challenges for Research, Assessment and Decision Making, held on May 22-25, 2000 at Airlie House in Warrenton, Virginia.


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For Academic Citation: Clark, William C., Jill Jaeger, Robert Corell, Roger Kasperson, James J. McCarthy, David Cash, Stewart J. Cohen, Paul Desanker, Nancy M. Dickson, Paul Epstein, David H. Guston, J. Michael Hall, Carlo Jaeger, Anthony Janetos, Neil Leary, Marc A. Levy, Amy. “Assessing Vulnerability to Global Environmental Risks.” Discussion Paper, 2000-12, Environment and Natural Resources Program, Belfer Center, August 31, 2000.

The Authors

William C. Clark