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WIREs Clim Change
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Trajectories of exposure and vulnerability of small islands to climate change

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This article advocates for a dynamic and comprehensive understanding of vulnerability to climate‐related environmental changes in order to feed the design of adaptation future pathways. It uses the trajectory of exposure and vulnerability (TEV) approach that it defines as ‘storylines of driving factors and processes that have influenced past and present territorial system exposure and vulnerability to impacts associated with climate variability and change.’ The study is based on the analysis of six peer‐reviewed Pacific island case studies covering various geographical settings (high islands vs low‐lying reef islands, urban vs rural) and hazards associated with climate variability and change; that addressed the interactions between natural and anthropogenic driving factors; and adopted multidecadal past‐to‐present approaches. The findings emphasize that most urban and rural reef and high islands have undergone increasing exposure and vulnerability as a result of major changes in settlement and demographic patterns, lifestyles and economies, natural resources availability, and environmental conditions. The article highlights three generic and successive periods of change in the studied islands’ TEV: from geopolitical and political over the colonization‐to‐political independence period; to demographic, socio‐economic, and cultural from the 1960s to the 1980s; culminating in the dominance of demographic, socio‐economic, cultural, and environmental drivers since the 1980s. Based on these empirical insights, the article emphasizes the existence of anthropogenic‐driven path‐dependency effects in TEV, thus arguing for the analysis of the temporal dimensions of exposure and vulnerability to be a prerequisite for science to be able to inform policy‐ and decision‐making processes toward robust adaptation pathways. WIREs Clim Change 2017, 8:e478. doi: 10.1002/wcc.478

Trajectories of exposure and vulnerability (TEV) of Pacific atoll reef islands and high mountainous islands. This flowchart summarizes the key drivers and processes that have influenced changes in population exposure and vulnerability in Pacific small islands over the past decades and century. (a) The TEV of atoll urban districts and islands. This figure illustrates the trajectory of vulnerability of atoll urban districts [Djarrit‐Uliga‐Delap (DUD) urban district on Majuro Atoll, South Tarawa Urban District on Tarawa Atoll] and urban islands (Fongafale Islet, Tuvalu). It shows that geopolitical drivers have acted as triggers in increasing population exposure and vulnerability in these settings, because they have caused profound changes in settlement patterns at both the atoll and country scales. (b) TEV of the rural mountainous island of Simbo, the Solomon Islands. Simbo Island shows an increase in population exposure as a result of changes in settlement patterns, but a decrease in vulnerability due to the benefits of globalization: indeed, in this island where the traditional resource management system has been preserved, globalization brings educational and professional opportunities strengthening the resilience of the community. (c) TEV of the urban mountainous island of Rarotonga, the Cook Island. This TEV emphasizes the major contributions of the concentration of the population and critical infrastructure on a highly‐exposed coast in increasing population exposure, and the key role of environmental degradation and poor planning practices in generating population vulnerability.
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