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Compendium on methods and tools to evaluate impacts of, and vulnerability and adaptation to, climate change

Vulnerability Indices

Formal vulnerability indices can be helpful as part of an adaptation strategy. Vulnerability is defined by the IPCC as the combination of sensitivity to climatic variations, the probability of adverse climate change, and adaptive capacity. For each of these components of vulnerability, formal indices can be constructed and combined.

Methods of aggregating across sectors and scales have been developed in other contexts (e.g., the Human Development Index) and are beginning to be applied to climate change. However, substantial methodological challenges remain — in particular estimating the risk of adverse climate change impacts and interpreting relative vulnerability across diverse situation.

Appropriate Use They can help identify and target vulnerable regions, sectors or populations, raise awareness, and can contribute to a monitoring strategy. In general stakeholder approaches are oriented toward research teams that support policy making. They help set the framework for evaluating specific measures, and thus from an early part of the decision process, as well as helping to monitor capability over a longer term.
Scope Global, but most appropriate at national or local level.
Key Output Matrices of vulnerability indexes, vulnerability maps.
Key Input A mixture of quantitative and qualitative data depending on actual tools employed in the approach. Examples of vulnerability indices are commonly available, including the Southeast Asia Environmental Framework (contact Vikrom Mathur at the SEI: and food security scenarios for South Africa and India (contact Tom Downing at the SEI).
Ease of Use Varies, but application of some tools requires specialist training in policy analysis. Some can be readily adopted by practitioners.
Training Required Some training is useful, but expertise in policy analysis is more important than specific analytical techniques.
Training Available A number of groups offer training in vulnerability assessment particularly related to disasters. The Vulnerability Network led by the SEI maintains a web site with discussion forums, a document hotel, and bibliographies: see
Computer Requirements Computer access
Documentation UNEP has sponsored a project to review formal vulnerability indices and a background paper has been prepared. A summary of the key issues is available as a PowerPoint presentation on the ECI website (see publications at See also the Technical Paper 3 of the Adaptation Policy Framework at

Vulnerability indices have been used by the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies in Dhaka, South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission, Association of Small Island States, and Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratory. The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has developed an analogous approach on environmental syndromes.

Contacts for Framework, Documentation, Technical Assistance

Dr. Thomas Downing, Stockholm Environment Institute, Oxford Office, 10B Littlegate Street, Oxford, OX1 1QT, United Kingdom; Tel: +.44.1865.202070, e-mail:

Dr. Antoinette Brenkert, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Joint Global Change Research Institute at the University of Maryland, 8400 Baltimore Avenue, Suite 201, College Park, MD 20740-2496, USA; Tel: +1.301.314.6759; Fax: +1.301.314.6760;

Cost No cost

Downing, T. et al. 2001. Vulnerability indices. Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation. UNEP, Policy Series 3: 91 pp. (available at