Two Faces of Vulnerability: Distinguishing Susceptibility to Harm and System Resilience in Climate Adaptation

Kenneth Shockley
Posted on: 9/01/2023 - Updated on: 9/01/2023

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In the climate adaptation literature, we can distinguish two seemingly distinct frameworks for the concept of vulnerability. We might think of vulnerability in terms of susceptibility to harm. Some discussions of vulnerability accordingly focus on the risk posed to well-being. Alternatively, we might think of vulnerability in terms of a system's responsiveness to adverse conditions, often spelled out in terms of resilience.

This article highlights and distinguishes these frameworks through a brief survey of climate adaptation literature. Understanding the relationship between these two frameworks is vital not only for conceptual clarity, but also for developing adaptation strategies that respond to the different sorts of vulnerabilities posed by climate change. Mitigating the vulnerability of an individual at risk of harm might well complicate efforts at mitigating the vulnerabilities of systems in which that individual is embedded. Humans are clearly at risk of harm from a changing climate, and changing climate challenges the resilience of systems on which humans depend. The paper concludes with a brief consideration of the vulnerabilities that arise from the dissociation of people from their environments.

Dissociation, whether through the migration of people or through changes to environmental background conditions not only makes clear the dual nature of vulnerabilities, but also serves as a lens through which we might consider the prospects for integrating a more cohesive account of vulnerability into successful climate adaptation strategies.


Shockley, K. (2023). Two faces of vulnerability: Distinguishing susceptibility to harm and system resilience in climate adaptation. WIREs Climate Change, e856.


Document Type
Adaptation Phase
Sector Addressed