Vulnerability of people and the environment - challenges and opportunities. Background Report on Chapter 7 of GEO-4

This report provides the background to the vulnerability analysis in the fourth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-4), published by United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) in October 2007. It includes a more detailed elaboration of the analyses in GEO-4 and also some additional analyses. Especially the methodology developed in GEO-4 to look at recurrent patterns of vulnerability provides an innovative approach for future vulnerability assessments.

Increasing vulnerabilities as a consequence of global environmental change

Recent scientific reports have shown that we are living in an era in which human activities are having a negative influence on the earth system on an unprecedented scale. The provision of ecosystem services, such as food production, clean air and water or a stable climate, is under severe and growing pressure. The rate of global environmental change that we are currently witnessing has not been observed before in human history. As a result, people face growing vulnerability. However, environmental change is only one of many factors influencing the vulnerability of people. Others include globalization, equity and governance, which therefore also need to be taken into account in vulnerability analyses.

Challenges and opportunities for sustainable development

Vulnerability analysis is widely used in the work of many international and national organizations concerned with poverty reduction, sustainable development and humanitarian aid. It is used to develop policy recommendations on how to reduce vulnerability and to adapt to change. In GEO-4, vulnerability analysis has become an important way to address challenges and opportunities for enhancing human well-being and the environment, without losing sight of the needs of future generations.

Archetypical patterns of vulnerability

Vulnerability analysis is usually place-based and context specific. In order to make such an analysis relevant within the scope of a global assessment, a specific approach was developed in GEO-4. This involves the identification and analysis of so-called archetypical patterns of vulnerability. These patterns of vulnerability do not describe one specific situation, but rather focus on the most important common properties of a multitude of cases that are in that sense “archetypical”. Recurring patterns of vulnerability can be found in numerous different places around the world, for example, in industrialized and developing regions, and urban and rural areas. The report presents a methodology for analyzing archetypical patterns of vulnerability. It concludes with a set of possible policy options for addressing vulnerability in relation to human well-being and sustainable development.

Related PBL-publications:


Kok M , Jager J , Karlsson SI , Ludeke MB , Mohammed-Katerere J , Thomalla F


Publication title
Vulnerability of people and the environment - challenges and opportunities. Background Report on Chapter 7 of GEO-4
Publication date
2 July 2009
Publication type
Publication language
Product number