Guiding Adaptation: The Use of Frameworks in Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments on an Ecosystem Scale
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Global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius is likely to be reached by the mid-20th Century and sealevels will continue to rise through 2100, even with immediate action. In order to respond to a changing climate and its effects, adaptation planning on a large scale must occur. In order to do this, the first step in a comprehensive risk assessment process is to assess vulnerability. While this is done with different scopes and scales in mind, climate change vulnerability assessments (CCVAs) of ecosystems take into consideration vulnerability of species, human systems, and areas. CCVAs on an ecosystem scale are growing in number and evidence is mounting that they may be outnumbering species-specific CCVAs in some areas. However, challenges that plague wide scale adoption of ecosystem-based CCVAs stem from a lack of institutional and scientific agreement on the operational definition of vulnerability and its terms. How this definition translates to an assessment framework and methodology plays a large role in the outcome of an assessment. A review of CCVAs for ecosystems shows that conceptual frameworks are not currently being used consistently and that when they are used, framework design varies. While some CCVAs looked to the IPCC as a source of a framework or operational definition of vulnerability, the published definition from this one source has changed over time. This has led to different interpretations of how to operationalize vulnerability even in those CCVAs citing the same source. Reviewed CCVAs also cited a number of other sources for frameworks, if they used one at all, which contributes to large variability in how vulnerability is defined and weighted for the purposes of assessment. This leads to different methodologies, data collection, and ultimately issues in data sharing and integration.