The first two elements of vulnerability - exposure and sensitivity - are hard to separate in a system (Figure 1). They are determined by the interaction between the characteristics of system and the impacts from the climatic stresses (Smit and Wandel, 2006).

Exposure represents the risks the local community is facing and how much a system is stressed. The severity of the stress is often measured by:

• how much (magnitude),
• how often (frequency),
• for how long (duration), and
• where (spatial extent) a climatic event occurs.

A system is never exposed only to the climate stimuli, even though it can be convenient to look at it this way for analytical purposes. By not taking multiple stressors into account, you risk systematically underestimating vulnerability. However, by incorporating other stressors, you lose in analytical power. A balance can be found. We have seen that in practical applications it is best to map the other factors which create the challenges and chances generated by climate change. This mapping creates a basis for the interpretation and shapes the context from which vulnerability should be assessed. More focused risk assessments could then be analysed using this multi-stressor context. Double or multiple exposure analyses how various global processes actually affect conditions and shape the room for action at the local level (O’Brien and Leichenko, 2000).

The framework takes into account both the effects of climate change and economic globalisation. When applying the framework, the most relevant climatic and non-climatic stressors are identified. The socio-economic processes that make up the non-climatic stressors are usually divided into economic, political, technological, and demographical processes of change. 

 

Figure 1. Vulnerability and its components (Australian Greenhouse Office, 2005)

The sensitivity element addresses how much the stressors actually modify or affect the studied system. A sensitivity analysis of the sectors or areas that are most significantly affected by climate change is usually conducted as a part of the vulnerability assessment. Recently it has been suggested that economic sectors not always are the best analytical perspective for analysing sensitivity.

Climate adaptation is inherently an inter-sectoral issue and the variability within each sector is larger than across sectors. Accordingly, sensitivity should be addressed directly towards the “critical” issues such as certain social and demographic groups or areas. Studies have shown that by doing so, more elaborate descriptions on how climate variation affects society today are obtained, and that based on these descriptions you get a more comprehensive picture on how climate change may affect society in the future. It is also important to study the drivers that affect sensitivity of the local area. For instance, in Sweden, the concentration of the population to a few economic centers mostly situated in coastal areas increases the sensitivity to flooding. If no adaptation is undertaken, vulnerability will increase.

The third element, adaptive capacity, depicts the ability of a system to adjust to climate change in order to moderate potential damages, take advantage of opportunities, or cope with the consequences (IPCC, 2001b). This includes issues of social capital, governance and coping experience; i.e. the role of institutions. There is an external and internal approach to adaptive capacity (Smit and Wandel, 2006).

The external approach assumes that adaptive capacity is mainly determined by factors lying outside the control of the system. These studies often compare the relative adaptive capacity of nations, regions or localities based on statistical analysis of a multi-variable index.

In contrast, internal analyses are made at the micro level looking at how various types of organisations govern climate adaptation and how to enhance social learning from these practical experiences. A lack of national legislation and rules, the ambiguous division of responsibility, the unaccustomedness to cooperate across departments and with non-public stakeholders, insufficient capacity to interpret analytical material, and too informal, fragmented and arbitrary documentation of experiences (Storbjörk, 2007; Glaas et al., 2010) have all been identified as barriers to enabling climate adaptation. The BalticClimate framework combines the external and internal approaches by systematically addressing adaptive capacity from both of these viewpoints.