I've been doing the Coursea MOOC Climate Literacy for a few weeks now, it is seemed time to share something of what I've been learning. The basic science has been mostly old for me since I've taught a course on this for some time. However, now we have moved on to impacts I'm starting to pick up on new ideas.
This diagram summarises the ideas behind systems becoming vulnerable to climate change impacts.
Sensitivity is how a system might be at risk to a hazard. Say for example your house is not on stilts. It is therefore sensitive to flooding. However, if you are not near a coast or in a flood plain, then your exposure is low. The product of sensitivity and exposure leads to some risk of potential impacts, in this case of flooding events.
Adaptive capacity is that ability or potential of a system to respond successfully to climate variability and change. In human systems this includes financial coping mechanisms, the role of education and awareness and trust and collaboration in communities. The first factor shows us why the developing world stands to be more vulnerable in many ways than the developed world. Adaptive capacity is a potential in that while we might be able to do something, we might not be willing to do it. Lack of political will is stymieing our ability to avoid a 2 C world!
All of this leads to a systems vulnerability to climate change. Some systems may prove resilient to such changes while others may cross tipping points and collapse.