Hostname: page-component-594f858ff7-jtv8x Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-06-05T21:30:41.653Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": false, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "corePageComponentUseShareaholicInsteadOfAddThis": true, "coreDisableSocialShare": false, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

Vulnerability analysis in environmental management: widening and deepening its approach

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 October 2007

Flood Hazard Research Centre, Middlesex University, Enfield EN3 4SA, UK
*Correspondence: Dr Loraine McFadden Tel: +44 208411 5531 Fax: +44 208411 5403 e-mail:


Current threshold-dominated methodologies of vulnerability analysis do not give sufficient emphasis to the processes that shape the environment and define the behaviour of environmental systems. While there has been widespread recognition for developing comprehensive approaches to assessing vulnerability, there has been relatively little theoretical debate on limitations and opportunities for improving the application of vulnerability analysis to environmental management, particularly in terms of a more complex systems perspective. A functional-based approach to ‘vulnerability’ is a means whereby the dynamics of vulnerable systems could be more fully integrated within vulnerability analysis. Functionality is seen as the ability of the environment to deliver outputs through time. Vulnerability analysis that is focused not only on thresholds that define the limits of system behaviour, but also on the process-defined capacity of systems to maintain this behaviour and deliver those outputs, could emerge as a useful element in integrated environmental management. Linking threshold analysis with a clear understanding of the interactions, differences and similarities between system processes which define coping ranges and system performance is a relatively simple conceptual development in vulnerability analysis. Such a development could, if successful, be of great value to those managing complex environments.

Copyright © Foundation for Environmental Conservation 2007

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Adger, W.N., Hughes, T.P., Folke, C., Carpenter, S.R. & Rockstrom, J. (2005) Socio-ecological resilience to coastal disasters. Science 309: 10361039.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
APFM Technical Support Unit (2004) Integrated flood management. Concept paper. APFM Technical Document No.1, second edition. APFM, Geneva, Switzerland [www document]. URL Scholar
Berkes, F., Colding, J. & Folke, C. (2003) Navigating Social-ecological Systems. Building Resilience for Complexity and Change. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Boulding, K.E. (1956) General systems theory – the skeleton of science. Management Science 2 (3): 197208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Buckle, P., Marsh, G. & Smale, S. (2001) Assessing Resilience and Vulnerability: Principles, Strategies and Actions. Australia: Australian Capital Territory, Emergency Management.Google Scholar
Burgess, K., Jay, H. & Hosking, A. (2002) FUTURECOAST: Predicting the Future Coastal Evolution of England and Wales. Journal of Coastal Conservation 10 (1): 6571.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chapman, G.P. (1977) Human and Environmental Systems. New York, NY, USA: Academic Press.Google Scholar
Checkland, P. (1981) Systems Thinking, Systems Practice. Chichester, UK: Wiley.Google Scholar
Checkland, P. & Casar, A. (1986) Vickers’ concept of an appreciative system: a systemic account. Journal of Applied Systems Analysis 13: 317.Google Scholar
Chorley, R.J. & Kennedy, B.A. (1971) Physical Geography: A Systems Approach. London, UK: Prentice-Hall International.Google Scholar
Clements, F.E. (1916) Plant Succession: An Analysis of the Development of Vegetation. Washington DC, USA: Carnegie Institution.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cutter, S.L. (2001) A research agenda for vulnerability science and environmental hazards. Newsletter of the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change 2 (1): 89.Google Scholar
Davis, W.K.D., ed. (1972) The Conceptual Revolution in Geography. London, UK: University of London Press.Google Scholar
De Brujin, K., Green, C., Johnson, C. & McFadden, L. (2007) Evolving concepts in flood risk management: searching for a common language. In: Flood Risk Management in Europe: Innovation in Policy and Practice, ed. Begum, S., Hall, J. & Stive, M., pp. 6175. Advances in Natural and Technological Hazards Research, 25. Netherlands: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Evans, E.P., Ashley, R.M., Hall, J., Penning-Rowsell, E., Saul, A., Sayers, P., Thorne, C. & Watkinson, A. (2004 a) Foresight. Future Flooding Volume I. Future Risks and their Drivers. London, UK: Office of Science and Technology.Google Scholar
Evans, E., Ashley, R., Hall, J., Penning-Rowsell, E., Sayers, P., Thorne, C. & Watkinson, A. (2004 b) Foresight. Future Flooding. Scientific Summary: Volume II. Managing Future Risks. London, UK: Office of Science and Technology.Google Scholar
de Groot, T.M. & Orford, J.D. (2000) Implications for coastal zone management. In: Sea Level Change and Coastal Processes: Implications for Europe, ed. Smith, D., Raper, S., Zerbini, S. & Sanchez-Archilla, A., pp. 214242. Luxembourg: The European Union.Google Scholar
Folke, C., Hahn, T., Olsson, P. & Norberg, J. (2005) Adaptive governance of social-ecological systems. Annual Review of Environment and Resources 30: 441473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Forbes, S.A. (1887) The lake as a microcosm. Bulletin of the Peoria Scientific Association, pp. 7787. Reprinted (1925) in Bulletin of the Illinois State Natural History Survey 15: 537550.Google Scholar
Gotts, N.M. (2007) Resilience, panarchy, and world-systems analysis. Ecology and Society 12 (1): 24 [www document]. URL Scholar
Green, C. (2004) Flood risk management in the context of Integrated Water Resource Management. Keynote paper, Workshop on Flood Prevention and Control on the Yangtze Paper, Wuhan. [www document]. URL Scholar
Green, C. & McFadden, L. (2007) Coastal vulnerability as discourse about meaning and values. Journal of Risk Research (in press).Google Scholar
Groffman, P.M., Baron, J.S., Blett, T., Gold, A.J., Goodman, I., Gunderson, L.H., Levinson, B., Palmer, M., Paerl, H.W., Peterson, G.D., LeRoy Poff, N., Rejeski, D.W., Reynolds, J.F., Turner, M.G., Weathers, K.C. & Wiens, J. (2006) Ecological thresholds: an important concept with no practical application, or the key to successful environmental management? Ecosystems 9: 113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gunderson, L.H. & Holling, C.S., eds. (2002) Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems. Washington, DC, USA: Island Press.Google Scholar
Holling, C.S. (1987) Simplifying the complex: the paradigms of ecological function and structure. European Journal of Operational Research 30: 139146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Klein, R.J.T., Nicholls, R.J., Ragoonaden, S., Capobianco, M., Aston, J. & Buckley, E.N. (2001). Technological options for adaptation to climate change in coastal zones. Journal of Coastal Research 17 (3): 531543.Google Scholar
McFadden, L. (2007) Governing Coastal Spaces: the case of disappearing science in Integrated Coastal Zone Management. Coastal Management 35 (4): 429443.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McFadden, L. & Green, C. (2007) Defining ‘vulnerability’: conflicts, complexities and implications for coastal zone management. Journal of Coastal Research Special issue 50: 120124.Google Scholar
McFadden, L. & Penning-Rowsell, E. (2006) Adaptive planning for flood risk management: emerging challenges and lessons from London, the Thames Estuary. In: New Approaches to Harbour and Coastal Risk Management and Education. EUROCOAST-LITTORAL 2006. Gdansk, 18th–20th September 2006, ed. Forkiewicz, M., pp. 7381. Gdansk, Poland: Gdansk University of Technology, Faculty of Management and Economics.Google Scholar
McFadden, L., Nicholls, R.J. & Penning-Rowsell, E (2006) Vulnerability and beyond. In: Managing Coastal Vulnerability: An Integrated Approach, ed. McFadden, L., Nicholls, R.J. & Penning-Rowsell, E., pp. 241258. Amsterdam, the Netherlands/Oxford, UK: Elsevier Science.Google Scholar
McLean, R.F., Tsyban, A., Burkett, V., Codignotto, J.O., Forbes, D.L., Mimura, N., Beamish, R.J. & Ittekkot, V. (2001) Coastal zones and marine ecosystems. In: Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), ed. McCarthy, J.J., Canziani, O., Leary, N.A., Dokken, D.J. & White, K.S.. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Metzger, M. & Schröter, D. (2006) Towards a spatially explicit and quantitative vulnerability assessment of environmental change in Europe. Regional Environmental Change 6: 201216.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nicholls, R.J. & Hoozemans, F.M.J. (2005) Global vulnerability analysis. In: Encyclopedia of Coastal Science, ed. Schwartz, M., pp. 486491. Netherlands: Kluwer.Google Scholar
Odum, H.T. (1983) Systems Ecology: An Introduction. New York, NY, USA: John Wiley.Google Scholar
Patt, A., Klein, R.J.T. & Vega-Leinert, de la (2005) Taking the uncertainty in climate-change vulnerability assessment seriously. Comptes Rendus Geoscience 337: 411424.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schiller, A., de Sherbinin, A., Hsieh, W. & Pulsipher, A. (2001). The Vulnerability of Global Cities to Climate Hazards. Paper presented at the Open Meeting of the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change Research Community, 4–5 October 2001 Rio de Janeiro [www document]. URL Scholar
Schröter, D., Metzger, M.J., Cramer, W. & Leemans, R. (2004) Vulnerability assessment: analysing the human-environment system in the face of global change. The ESS Bulletin 2: 1117.Google Scholar
Schröter, D., Polsky, C. & Patt, A. (2005) Assessing vulnerabilities to the effects of global change: an eight stage approach. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 10: 573596.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schumm, S.A. & Lichty, R.W. (1965) Time, space and causality in geomorphology. American Journal of Science 263: 110119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Smith, J.B., Klein, R.J.T. & Huq, S., eds (2003) Climate Change, Adaptive Capacity and Development. London, UK: Imperial College Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Turner, B.L., Kasperson, R.E., Matson, P., McCarthy, J.J., Corell, R.W., Christensen, L., Eckley, N., Kasperson, J.X., Luers, A., Martello, M.L., Polsky, C., Pulsipher, A. & Schiller, A. (2003) A framework for vulnerability analysis in sustainability science. PNAS 100 14: 80748079.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
United Nations Economic and Social Council (2000) Sustainable flood prevention. Economic Commission for Europe. Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes, Second meeting, The Hague, 23–25 March 2000. MP.WAT/2000/7 [www document]. URL Scholar
Vogel, C. & O'Brien, K. (2004) Vulnerability and global environmental change: rhetoric and reality. AVISO 13: 13 March 2004.Google Scholar
von Bertalanffy, L.K. (1951) General system theory. A new approach to unity of science (Symposium). Human Biology 23: 303361.Google Scholar
Walker, B., Holling, C.S., Carpenter, S.R. & Kinzig, A. (2004) Resilience, adaptability and transformability in social-ecological systems. Ecology and Society 9 (2): 5 [www document]. URL Scholar
Walker, B. & Meyers, J.A. (2004) Thresholds in ecological and /socio-ecological systems: a developing database. Ecology and Society 9 (2): 3 [www document]. URL Scholar
Wiener, N. (1948) Cybernetics. Cambridge, MA, USA.: MIT Press, and New York, NY, USA: Wiley.Google ScholarPubMed
Wiener, N. (1950) The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
Wright, L.D. & Thom, B.G. (1977) Coastal depositional landforms: a morphodynamic approach. Progress in Physical Geography 1: 412459.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wymore, A.W. (1976) Systems Engineering Methodology for Interdisciplinary Teams. New York, NY, USA: Wiley.Google Scholar
Yohe, G.W. & Tol, R.S.J. (2002) Indicators for social and economic coping capacity: moving towards a working definition of adaptive capacity. Global Environmental Change-Human and Policy Dimensions 12 (1): 2540.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Young, O.R., Berkhout, F., Gallopin, G.C., Janssen, M.A., Ostrom, E. & Van Der Leeuw, S. (2006) The globalization of socio-ecological systems: An agenda for scientific research. Global Environmental Change 16: 304316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zannetos, Z.S. (1984) Decision sciences and management expectations. In: Operational Research ‘84, ed. Brans, J.P., pp. 6976. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: North Holland.Google Scholar