ICARUS IV was hosted the 7th to 10th of May 2015 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

Conference Themes:

Theme 1: Causes of Vulnerability
Climate-related human disasters occur at the intersection of biophysical hazard and human vulnerability. Both hazards and vulnerabilities have causes. Understanding these causes helps us to assess the probability of crisis and to identify entry points for risk reduction. In order to understand the full set of causal factors that produce the precarity of the poor, how do we identify, model and employ cause on the social vulnerability side of the climate-risk equation? Despite that vulnerability studies is a well-developed field, formal modeling of the causes of vulnerability in climate-risk are far behind the hazards-style models used to predict the probability of climate disasters. Yet without vulnerability hazard is nil, so to be meaningful, models of climate crisis need to account for vulnerability. This theme focuses on a series of questions. First, what kinds of causal models of vulnerability are available that could be productively used in climate risk-models. Second, how do existing models of climate risk integrate the social sciences and what kinds of assumptions do they rely on? Third, how do the assumptions now embedded in climate models shape the kinds of predictions these models make and the kinds of solutions they might point to? Fourth, what are the policy strengths and limits to causal analysis of vulnerability? In this theme of the meeting we hope to have case studies of vulnerability and its causes as well as case studies of models and modelers treatment of vulnerability.

Theme 2: Climate and Livelihoods of the Poor

This theme focuses attention on how risks and losses owed to climate variability and change affect the livelihoods of the poor? Some risks threaten the poor directly such as through disasters; others undermine means of livelihoods and subsistence. All climate risks make more precarious the well being of the poor, balanced as their lives are at the edge of hunger, deprivation and homelessness. We invite papers that focus in particular on the interactions between climate risks and livelihoods, as also on the forms of responses to such risks that poor households adopt and adapt. Some illustrative areas of work under this theme may be “livelihoods in marginal environments,” “resource dependence and the poor,” “social safety nets and climate risks,” but the call is not limited to these subthemes. Comparative studies, those building on available or newly collected evidence, advances in methods, and proposals for new solution concepts or frameworks for thought and criticism are welcome in particular.

Themes 1 & 2: Integrative Papers
Themes one and two are, of course, intertwined. We encourage papers that integrate research on the causes of vulnerability with proactive analysis of livelihoods, especially livelihoods at risk. How can a better understanding of vulnerability and its causes shape livelihoods strategies and adaptation practices and politics? How are livelihoods and adaptations embedded in social and political -economic relations that limit or enable adjustment? Integrative papers will explore the origins and deployment of the resources that vulnerable individuals and groups bring to their everyday strategies of security and betterment.

Keynote Speakers:

Timothy Forsyth (Professor of Environment and Development, London School of Economics)

Livelihoods and Vulnerability Under Climate Change
Social scientists are increasingly calling for the analysis of adaptation to consider factors other than greenhouse gas forcing. But theories about vulnerability and livelihoods still lag behind climate change debates. This talk will attempt to reconcile these two fields by considering the historical ways in which research into livelihoods have considered questions of vulnerability, and prospects for updating these approaches in the face of new climate risks. The paper will argue that Sustainable Livelihoods Approaches (SLAs) – despite reflecting the neoliberal principles of the late 1990s – offered an important insight into vulnerability by being outcome oriented – ie defining sustainability in terms of outcomes useful to vulnerable people rather than in terms of response to specific environmental changes alone. Since the 1990s, however, livelihoods research has engaged more thoroughly with the national and discursive contexts within which livelihoods and risks are defined. This transition offers a template for new climate-resilient livelihoods in creating space for redefining the risks, and hence the responses, experienced by vulnerable people. The talk will provide examples of these more deliberative approaches to sustainable livelihoods from cases of ecosystem-based adaptation, and the proposed Landscapes Approach, which seeks to integrate development and environmental planning for multiple land uses.

Timothy Forsyth is Professor of Environment and Development at the London School of Economics. He is a specialist on the politics of environment and development, with a focus on understanding contested science and risk within environmental governance. His work analyses two themes: the politics and policy processes of contested environmental debates in rapidly developing countries; and the evolution of new multi-actor, multi-level forums of governance such as cross-sector partnerships or deliberative forums. He has written on climate change governance; forest polities in Asia; and social movements and local governance.

Diana Liverman (Regents Professor of Geography and Co-Director of the Institute of the Environment, University of Arizona)

Rethinking Climate Vulnerability
This talk will discuss some of the key challenges in studying climate vulnerability, drawing on recent work in the southwest US, Mexico and the Caribbean. These challenges include the need to study sectors beyond agriculture and natural resources – especially manufacturing and services; the importance of understanding the vulnerability of labor and workers; the difficulty of analyzing local vulnerability in a globally connected economy; and the necessity of better research designs including comparative and longitudinal studies. And as the UN is declaring success in terms of the Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty between 1990 and 2015, we should consider our use of poverty as a measure of vulnerability and whether success in meeting the MDGs has translated into reductions in vulnerability.

Diana Liverman is Regents Professor of Geography and Development and Co-Director of the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona. Her research centers on climate impacts, vulnerability and adaptation, and climate policy and mitigation especially in the developing world. She also works on the political economy and political ecology of environmental management in the Americas, particularly in Mexico.


ICARUS IV Organizing Committee
  • Arun Agrawal – University of Michigan
  • Maria-Carmen Lemos – University of Michigan
  • Ben Orlove – Columbia University
  • Jesse Ribot – University of Illinois

ICARUS IV Conference Host

Conference Co-Sponsors