The paper deals with the development of a general as well as integrative and holistic framework to systematize and assess vulnerability, risk and adaptation. The framework is a thinking tool meant as a heuristic that outlines key factors and different dimensions that need to be addressed when assessing vulnerability in the context of natural hazards and climate change. The approach underlines that the key factors of such a common framework are related to the exposure of a society or system to a hazard or stressor, the susceptibility of the system or community exposed, and its resilience and adaptive capacity. Additionally, it underlines the necessity to consider key factors and multiple thematic dimensions when assessing vulnerability in the context of natural and socio-natural hazards. In this regard, it shows key linkages between the different concepts used within the disaster risk management (DRM) and climate change adaptation (CCA) research. Further, it helps to illustrate the strong relationships between different concepts used in DRM and CCA. The framework is also a tool for communicating complexity and stresses the need for societal change in order to reduce risk and to promote adaptation. With regard to this, the policy relevance of the framework and first results of its application are outlined. Overall, the framework presented enhances the discussion on how to frame and link vulnerability, disaster risk, risk management and adaptation concepts.