A systems network approach for climate change vulnerability assessment

2018 September 19

Debortoli, N.S., Sayles, J.S., Clark, D.G., Ford, J.D. (2018). A systems network approach for climate change vulnerability assessment. Environmental Research Letterspublished online.

Vulnerability to climate change is a product of biophysical and social dynamics. Assessments of community or regional vulnerability, however, often focus on quantitative infrastructure and environmental assessments, or qualitative assessments of a community’s social dynamics and livelihood activities. A dearth of integrated quantitative assessments is a major barrier for decision-makers who require quantitative outputs and indicators, which can measure where vulnerability is most severe and can be linked to climate projections. Our framework and analysis helps address such gaps by identifying variables to build climate change vulnerability indices, which we pilot here focusing on Inuit communities in the Canadian Arctic. We start with a systematic literature review of community-based vulnerability studies and assess relationships among 58 social and biophysical variables. We then use multiplex network analysis to determine how social and environmental variables interact among and within the key component of vulnerability: exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity. We identify several structurally important variables that interact within and across the three dimensions of vulnerability. This method is transferable as an integrative means of understanding not only the direct causes of vulnerability but also relations that are less tangible. The approach of multiplex network analysis can be a building block to ongoing development of vulnerability indices within the human dimensions of climate change field.

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