Climate vulnerability mapping: A systematic review and future prospects

Alex de Sherbinin, Anamaria Bukvic, Guillaume Rohat, Melanie Gall, Brent McCusker, Benjamin Preston, Alex Apotsos, Carolyn Fish, Stefan Kienberger, Park Muhonda, Olga Wilhelmi, Denis Macharia, William Shubert, Richard Sliuzas, Brian Tomaszewski, Sainan Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Maps synthesizing climate, biophysical and socioeconomic data have become part of the standard tool-kit for communicating the risks of climate change to society. Vulnerability maps are used to direct attention to geographic areas where impacts on society are expected to be greatest and that may therefore require adaptation interventions. Under the Green Climate Fund and other bilateral climate adaptation funding mechanisms, donors are investing billions of dollars of adaptation funds, often with guidance from modeling results, visualized and communicated through maps and spatial decision support tools. This paper presents the results of a systematic review of 84 studies that map social vulnerability to climate impacts. These assessments are compiled by interdisciplinary teams of researchers, span many regions, range in scale from local to global, and vary in terms of frameworks, data, methods, and thematic foci. The goal is to identify common approaches to mapping, evaluate their strengths and limitations, and offer recommendations and future directions for the field. The systematic review finds some convergence around common frameworks developed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, frequent use of linear index aggregation, and common approaches to the selection and use of climate and socioeconomic data. Further, it identifies limitations such as a lack of future climate and socioeconomic projections in many studies, insufficient characterization of uncertainty, challenges in map validation, and insufficient engagement with policy audiences for those studies that purport to be policy relevant. Finally, it provides recommendations for addressing the identified shortcomings. This article is categorized under: Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change > Values-Based Approach to Vulnerability and Adaptation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere600
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2019


  • adaptation
  • climate change
  • mapping
  • meta-analysis
  • social vulnerability
  • spatial indices
  • vulnerability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Atmospheric Science


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