Complex Climate Change Risk and Emerging Directions for Vulnerability Research in Africa

Ayansina Ayanlade (Corresponding author), Thomas Smucker (Corresponding author), Mary Nyasimi, Harald Sterly, Lemlem Fitwi Weldemariam, Nicholas P. Simpson

Publications: Contribution to journalArticlePeer Reviewed


This article explains the assessment and conceptual framing of the Vulnerability Synthesis in the Africa chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 6th Assessment Report (AR6), situating the synthesis within emerging understandings of complex climate change risk, intersectionality and multi-dimensional vulnerability. It highlights how reducing vulnerability holds the greatest potential gains for reducing near-term climate risk in Africa. It elaborates how important dimensions of vulnerability, such as inequalities of gender, migrant status or level of income, compound with each other to affect risk. Our review of current vulnerability scholarship reveals severe limitations for climate risk management that are rooted in a lack of attention to interacting social drivers and their effects on risk, as well as an orientation toward vulnerability analyses at coarse social and spatial levels. These scales do not match well with the localised nature of vulnerability nor the impacts of climate change. There is also limited research on the intersectional differentiation of vulnerabilities, which is essential to understanding the heterogeneous nature of vulnerable groups and their agency, particularly concerning navigating or contesting unequal power relations. Reflecting on these dimensions in the Vulnerability Synthesis, we identify how research can provide a deeper understanding of the interactions among multiple drivers of vulnerability and why this matters for adaptation in Africa. Key to this understanding will be to show how responses to climate change affect important dimensions of vulnerability and with what overall risk outcomes. Doing so will advance intersectional analysis within place-based vulnerability assessments across Africa and better inform the design of interventions targeting those dimensions and scales of vulnerability that have the greatest proportional effect on risk reduction. These will contribute informed safeguards against maladaptation as well as provide concrete directions for planning for more inclusive climate-resilient development.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100497
Number of pages20
JournalClimate Risk Management
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2023

Austrian Fields of Science 2012

  • 105205 Climate change
  • 509023 Development research


  • Climate change
  • Vulnerability
  • Intersectionality
  • Compound risk
  • Response
  • Africa

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