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Assessing Vulnerability to Climate Change in Dryland Livelihood Systems: Conceptual Challenges and Interdisciplinary Solutions

Evan D. G. Fraser, Department of Geography, University of Guelph; University of Leeds
Andrew J Dougill, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
Klaus Hubacek, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
Claire H. Quinn, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
Jan Sendzimir, International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Mette Termansen, School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-03402-160303

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Abstract

Over 40% of the earth’s land surface are drylands that are home to approximately 2.5 billion people. Livelihood sustainability in drylands is threatened by a complex and interrelated range of social, economic, political, and environmental changes that present significant challenges to researchers, policy makers, and, above all, rural land users. Dynamic ecological and environmental change models suggest that climate change induced drought events may push dryland systems to cross biophysical thresholds, causing a long-term drop in agricultural productivity. Therefore, research is needed to explore how development strategies and other socioeconomic changes help livelihoods become more resilient and robust at a time of growing climatic risk and uncertainty. As a result, the overarching goal of this special feature is to conduct a structured comparison of how livelihood systems in different dryland regions are affected by drought, thereby making methodological, empirical, and theoretical contributions to our understanding of how these types of social-ecological systems may be vulnerable to climate change. In introducing these issues, the purpose of this editorial is to provide an overview of the two main intellectual challenges of this work, namely: (1) how to conceptualize vulnerability to climate change in coupled social-ecological systems; and (2) the methodological challenges of anticipating trends in vulnerability in dynamic environments.

Key words

adaptability; climate change; drought; food security; livelihoods; vulnerability

Copyright © 2011 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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