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How do Development Organisations Integrate Climate and Conflict Risks?: Experiences and Lessons Learnt from UK, Germany and the Netherlands
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences.
2016 (English)Report (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Executive summary

There is growing consensus among practitioners and scholars that combined climate, conflict and fragility risks require integrated approaches. Development organisations have recently started to integrate security implications of climate change into high-level policies. However, the translation of high-level policies into geographical strategies and programming has often proven a challenge for development organisations. In this report, we explore the questions of how development organisations have addressed combined climate and conflict risks in their policies and how they have dealt with challenges to implementing these policies in their programmes. We do so by examining policies, analytical tools, strategies and implementation procedures in three development organisations in combination with interviews with staff at the organisations. The organisations concerned are the Department for International Development (DFID), the Die Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). More specifically, we focus on two forms of integration that have been identified as particularly relevant for effectively addressing combined climate and conflict risks: the integration of climate risks in peacebuilding efforts and the need to apply a conflict-sensitive approach in climate change programmes. This is often discussed in the literature in terms of climate-resilient peacebuilding and conflict-sensitive climate programming.


The overall aim with this study was to contribute to an increased understanding of how institutions could deal with the policy challenges posed by combined climate and conflict risks. While there are some previous studies addressing such policy responses at the regional and global level, there is no other study that investigates how national development organisations have dealt with these issues. By examining both the policy responses and the implementation strategies of the three organisations, the study provides a deepened understanding of the opportunities and challenges of translating these policies into practice. The ambition was to enhance knowledge of different policies and of factors affecting implementation. This knowledge is essential for policy makers to accurately assess the value of current Swedish strategies in this regard and to identify how internal organisation and procedures could be improved to better respond to compound climate and conflict risks.


As mentioned above, the report examines two forms of integration of climate and conflict risks: climate-resilient peacebuilding and conflict-sensitive climate programming. The core element of climate-resilient peacebuilding is the importance of taking both short- and long-term climate risks into consideration in peacebuilding efforts as potential drivers of conflict. The report shows that in high-level policies in both Germany and the UK, climate change is considered a factor that could increase the potential for conflicts. Despite this, neither country requires climate change and climate variability to be specifically addressed in conflict analysis, early warning systems or country strategies. The primary strategy for integrating climate risks into peacebuilding activities is through climate-proofing. Climate-proofing is, however, based on the “do no harm” logic and therefore requires complementary integration strategies in order to contribute positively to peacebuilding processes. The most important consequence of disregarding climate risks in conflict analysis is that conflict prevention could be hampered.


The overarching goal with conflict-resilient climate programming is that responses to climate change should not increase the risk of conflict, and in the best case even help strengthen peacebuilding processes. Several studies therefore suggest that in order to address combined climate and conflict risks, it is necessary for climate change programming to take conflict risks into account. Resilience and vulnerability are the most common frameworks that development organisations use for their climate-related activities. Resilience and vulnerability methods are intended to identify risks and strengthen adaptation and development planning. While the methodologies of both DFID and GIZ include socio-economic conditions, neither incorporates the conflict dimension. Without integrating conflict risks into their assessments, development organisations are unlikely to be able to address combined conflict and climate risks in a consistent manner.


Besides the importance of including careful analysis of the conflict dimension in resilience and vulnerability assessments, there is also a related debate regarding the risk of maladaptation. Simply put, the argument goes that if climate programmes are not conflict-sensitive, they could themselves have negative impacts on land tenure and marginalise certain groups, with negative impacts on their propensity for conflict. In both GIZ and DFID, there are guidelines regarding how to ensure the conflict sensitivity of development programming in conflict-affected and fragile states. While these procedures are very important, staff members reported that they often need to balance many different priorities. Hence, without support from help desks or expert groups, it could be challenging for staff members to employ these tools and develop entirely conflict-sensitive projects.


The report clearly shows that the translation of high-level policies into strategies and programming has proven challenging for development organisations. Lack of knowledge and internal organisational structures and priorities are important obstacles to effective implementation. An important question is how implementation could be improved. The report identifies a number of lessons for policy makers and practitioners:

  • There is a need for improving coordination across policy areas. Climate and security threats span various policy areas that are in many cases strongly separated. If these policy areas are managed within the same department or by a specially created new steering group, coordination becomes significantly easier. The report also shows that external expert units could play an important coordinating role and contribute to coherence and sustainability over time.
  • Knowledge about how climate change may affect food, water, migration and humanitarian disasters is crucial for responding effectively to climate-induced security risk. Our analysis shows that development organisations often lack the knowledge needed to respond efficiently to combined climate and conflict risks. It is therefore important to create help desks or specialist units, internal or external, that provide expertise on these matters.
  • There is a need to modify existing resilience and conflict analysis. In most organisations climate programming and peacebuilding efforts are largely dealt with using separate analytical tools that are unlikely to be able to capture how complex risks interact with each other. It is therefore important to develop new analytical tools that can address both conflict risks and climate change vulnerability.
  • While mainstreaming has the advantage of raising the awareness of an issue, this strategy also has clear limitations. Besides requiring time, capabilities and commitment by staff, mainstreaming strategies often follow a “do no harm” logic, which means that they only ensure that proposed projects have no obvious negative impacts on e.g. climate change. Mainstreaming does not necessarily contribute to more profound forms of integration where positive effects are achieved. Hence, mainstreaming strategies by themselves are not sufficient to effectively address combined climate and conflict risks and need to be complemented by other integration strategies.


Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Stockholm University, 2016. , 68 p.
Keyword [en]
climate change, human security, development organisations, policy implementation, integrated approaches
National Category
Social Sciences
Research subject
Political Science
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-130264OAI: diva2:927781
Climate change and security – challenges and managing options

 The project is funded by the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and runs from September 2015 to June 2016.

Available from: 2016-05-13 Created: 2016-05-13 Last updated: 2016-05-13

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