Vulnerability & Adaptation

Philippines. Photo © TNC

Climate change vulnerability refers to the extent to which a species, habitat, community, or ecosystem is susceptible to harm from climate change impacts. Sustaining coral reefs and human communities that depend upon them requires an understanding of their vulnerability to climate change.

Resilience is closely linked to vulnerability; resilience is defined as the ability of a system to maintain key functions and processes in the face of stresses or pressures by either resisting to or adapting to change. ref

Adaptation strategies are actions taken to help communities and ecosystems to cope with or recover from changes in climate conditions. The implementation of adaptation strategies helps to support increased resilience and reduced vulnerability of human communities and ecosystems, more broadly.

The risks associated with climate change require changes to conservation planning and management. For example, climate change may require managers to re-prioritize which stressors to focus on and which strategies to use to address them. ref Current conservation approaches may be insufficient to protect natural ecosystems and the services that they provide as climate impacts increase and intensify, and may need to be adjusted for place, time, or approach. Current approaches may need to be revised to incorporate adaptation to climate change, or new approaches may be needed. ref

A coastal road at sea level is vulnerable to sea level rise. Photo © TNC

A coastal road at sea level is vulnerable to sea level rise. Photo © TNC

The perception of what constitutes a viable policy or management approach may change as climate impacts intensify. Some approaches viewed as not socially or financially feasible today, may be required in the future. For example, in response to sea-level rise, planning for managed retreat and abandonment of coastal areas was unthinkable just 20 years ago, but is now implemented regularly in coastal states in the U.S. ref In some small developing islands, addressing climate vulnerability and adaptation options is essential now to ensure that conservation planning and management efforts have the best chance of success.

The tools and methods selected for conducting a vulnerability assessment depend on the purpose and focus of the vulnerability assessment and the capacity available. The following pages describe guidance for conducting a vulnerability assessment and several tools to guide implementation.

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