World view

Measuring the Unmeasurable

Risks and damages due to extreme events and climate change not only depend on the force and frequency of natural events, such as fl oods and storms, but also on the vulnerability of infrastructures, towns and cities and, therefore, ultimately of human beings.

The question of how to measure vulnerability represents one of the central challenges of science, as evidenced by the heatwave that gripped Europe in 2003, during which many people died, particularly the elderly. Yet, in their responses to a household survey currently being conducted by the University of Stuttgart’s Institute of Regional Development Planning (IREUS) in Ludwigsburg, a major district center, older people, in particular, deem themselves to be not especially vulnerable to heat. Measuring vulnerability to extreme events and climate change at the global level is of central importance to the relevant risk analyses and adaptative measures.

According to calculations performed at the IREUS, countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Pacific island states have a high and persistent vulnerability rating. Vulnerability, resilience and adaptation are the topics of current global discussions. As a result of the internationally recognized research into vulnerability being carried out at IREUS, its head, Professor Jörn Birkmann, has been selected as the coordinating lead author for the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report. In collaboration with experts from 90 countries, he will be analyzing the effects of climate as well as questions of vulnerability and adaptation during the next four years. The first two conferences will be held in 2019 in South Africa and Nepal respectively and the publication of the report is planned for 2021.

The Summary for Policy Makers will be read word-for-word and discussed by over 180 governments – hardly any scientific reports garner such widespread attention.




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