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Abstract

As the emphasis in climate change research, international negotiations, and developing-country activities has shifted from mitigation to adaptation, vulnerability has emerged as a bridge between impacts on one side and the need for adaptive changes on the other. Still, the term vulnerability remains , its meaning changing with the scale, focus, and purpose of each assessment. Understanding regional vulnerability has advanced over the past several decades, with studies using a combination of indicators, case studies and analogs, stakeholder-driven processes, and scenario-building methodologies. As regions become increasingly relevant scales of inquiry for bridging the aggregate and local, for every analysis, it is perhaps most appropriate to ask three ‘what’ questions: ‘What/who is vulnerable?’, ‘What is vulnerability?’, and ‘Vulnerable to what?’ The answers to these questions will yield different definitions of vulnerability as well as different methods for assessing it. Vulnerability research that is primarily quantitative has been dominated by the use of indicators. Regional vulnerability research can also focus on or include stakeholder involvement processes, especially helpful in generating agreement on issues and understanding context-specific aspects of vulnerability and prospective adaptations. Creating scenarios is another increasingly useful method that helps researchers, policymakers, and other stakeholders think about the future and plan options for alternative futures. Current research efforts are emphasizing stakeholder involvement, with a dual focus on vulnerability assessment and social learning in the process; and scenario analyses, which may be expert-defined or stakeholder-driven. Both tend to span impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation decision making for a particular place and conditions. WIREs Clim Change 2011 2 462–474 DOI: 10.1002/wcc.116

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