A New Climate for Peace

Taking Action on Climate and Fragility Risks

This independent report, commissioned by the G7 members, identifies seven compound climate-fragility risks that pose serious threats to the stability of states and societies in the decades ahead. Based on a thorough assessment of existing policies on climate change adaptation, development cooperation and humanitarian aid, and peacebuilding, the report recommends that the G7 take concrete action, both as individual members and jointly, to tackle climate-fragility risks and increase resilience to them.


Resilience Compass

When climate change exacerbates conflicts and crises, resilience must be the compass for foreign policy. The Resilience Compass features news, reflections and opinions on climate change and fragility, with contributions from the Wilson Center’s New Security Beat, International Alert and guest authors.


Factbook, Readings, Events

This collection of resources complements and extends the analysis of the report. It contains an interactive factbook allowing users to explore case studies from around the world and provides background readings and contextualized report and event summaries.

Thematic Reading

Thematic Area No. 4

Disasters, Climate Change and Conflict


Natural disasters, conflict and fragility interrelate in complex ways. Conflict and fragility amplify the impact of natural disasters by increasing vulnerability and limiting response capacities. While disasters can open political space for building trust and negotiating an end to violent conflict, they can also aggravate conflict by deepening grievances, providing economic or political opportunities, or increasing the feasibility of engaging in violent conflict. Risk factors such as poor governance are common to both disaster vulnerability and violent conflict. These are likely to coincide more in the future, particularly in light of climate change impacts on disaster risk.


Key Reading

Overseas Development Institute, ‘When disasters and conflicts collide: Improving links between disaster resilience and conflict prevention’

This report provides the most comprehensive analysis of the evidence base on the disaster-conflict interface, and is focused on generating specific recommendations for implementing a risk-reduction agenda. It notes that existing systematic analysis on how disasters affect conflict is limited in quantity, highly context-specific and sometimes contradictory. However, the authors conclude that the combination of disasters and conflict can compound the impacts of both, impair recovery and increase the risk of future crises.

In addition to examining how disasters and conflict are interrelated, this report offers recommendations for addressing vulnerabilities in a joined-up way. It notes the need for developing interventions that do not aggravate conflict or disaster vulnerabilities, but rather systematically integrate disaster risk reduction with peacebuilding and statebuilding frameworks. Toward this end, it recommends elements for a conceptual framework to integrate these hitherto separate fields, along with specific policy, programming, finance and research objectives to strengthen interventions that increase resilience to multiple shocks and stresses.

While acknowledging that more work is needed in this field, the authors overlay indices from a number of sources to generate a ranking of the top 20 countries considered to be fragile and/or conflict-affected with high disaster risk, high levels of poverty and high levels of vulnerability to climate change. The report also grounds its analysis in case studies from the Sahel, Karamoja, Nepal and Afghanistan.

>> Peters, Katie, David Keen and Tom Mitchell (2013): When disasters and conflicts collide: Improving links between disaster resilience and conflict prevention’, Overseas Development Institute, London.


Additional Reading

United Nations Development Program (UNDP), ‘Disaster-conflict interface: comparative experiences’

This study examines the disaster-conflict interface with a focus on how this dynamic impacts poverty and inequality. It highlights the need for holistic and integrated responses to ‘conflict-disaster complexities’, noting that development interventions that are not sensitive to the linkages can worsen tensions and increase risk.

UNDP’s report is in a position to evaluate the relative success of in-country program responses, and has a particular focus on improving the Country Offices’ development programming in crisis contexts, although the findings are relevant to other stakeholders. Analysis is based on case studies that illustrate the range of possible interactions between disasters and conflict, in Bolivia, Haiti, Indonesia (Aceh), Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Zimbabwe. This grounding helps illustrate the context-specific impacts of disasters on conflict risk, which have both exacerbated and helped to resolve conflict. It highlights drought as particularly exacerbating conflict risk.

The report includes analysis of the unintended negative consequences of inappropriate or unsustainable conflict or disaster assistance, the impact of the disaster-conflict interface on gender-related vulnerabilities and violence, and the potential space for conflict transformation created by capacity-building and the disaster recovery process.

>> United Nations Development Program (2011): ‘Disaster-Conflict Interface: Comparative Experiences’, United Nations Development Program Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, New York.


Natural Hazards, ‘Extreme events and disasters: a window of opportunity for change? Analysis of organizational, institutional and political changes, formal and informal responses after mega-disasters‘

This article provides an in-depth examination of how disasters can lead to changes in social and organisational systems at different scales. Although the primary case study is of a geological rather than a climatic disaster (the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and its opposite effect on the conflict trajectories of Aceh and Sri Lanka), the findings are oriented towards the risks that climate change presents. It notes that the high levels of uncertainty associated with climate impacts make understanding the ways in which post-disaster change takes place important, if strategic policy and methodological lessons are to be successfully learned.

>> Birkmann, J., Buckle, P., Jaeger, J., Pelling, M., Setiadi, N., Garschagen, M., Fernando, N., and Kropp, J. (2010) ‘Extreme events and disasters: a window of opportunity for change? Analysis of organisational, institutional and political changes, formal and informal responses after mega-disasters’, Natural Hazards, 55: 637-655.

Thematic Area No. 3

Urban Risks, Climate Change and Conflict


Climate impacts can amplify urban risks in ways that impact the security environment. Given the density of population, infrastructure and assets present in urban areas, extreme weather events including hydro-meteorological events, storm surges, and heat waves can cause fatalities and a breakdown of social order and the rule of law. Human vulnerability is concentrated in cities, and if local government and institutions are unable to mitigate risk from climate impacts, or their attempts to do so exacerbate tensions and justice issues between economic or ethnic groups, this can result in social unrest and violence. These reports look at some of the ways that these dynamics could link to conflict risk in countries with multiple social challenges, low resilience and difficult underlying security vulnerabilities.


Key Reading

USAID, ‘Climate Change and Conflict in West African Cities: A policy brief on findings from Lagos, Nigeria and Accra, Ghana’

This study was commissioned by USAID to address the lack of climate change and conflict research that specifically focused on large urban areas. It explores whether the effects of climate change are likely to lead to conflict scenarios in West African cities, and if so, under what circumstances and over what time frame. It also looks at actions that governments and donors can take to minimize these risks.

The study focuses on Lagos, Nigeria and Accra, Ghana. The two cities face differing underlying sociopolitical risks and exposure to climate-related hazards. Both are at risk from flooding, and the report looks particularly at how each city should deal with climate risks to poor, illegal, low-lying, and already vulnerable neighbourhoods.

In Lagos, around 70 percent of people live in these types of areas. Evicting and relocating people from flood-prone lands have proven highly controversial, with a high potential for conflict.

The rich/poor divide is another potential point of friction highlighted in the report, alongside .a trend for increases in resentment or rejection of new migrants to the city. The authors identify this as the start of a potentially chronic problem with political reverberations that could further stress Nigeria’s already fractured political environment.

By contrast, Accra has a far more stable national political environment, but torrential rains are having an increasing impact on the population. Climate change will exacerbate this , while also contributing to migration from hotter, dryer northern areas to the coast.

In response to fatal flooding events in 2011, Accra pursued a plan to reduce flood risk. However, slum residents vigorously resisted measures to relocate them, forcing a redesign of the project that focused instead on slum improvement. The report points out that the difficult issue of relocation extends to dozens of other slum communities in West African urban areas and is almost certain to become more acute with time.

The report finds it unlikely that climate stresses will lead to the mobilization of significant organized conflict in Lagos or Accra in the near future. However, the continued proliferation and growth of densely populated settlements in dangerously vulnerable low-lying areas will result in a proportionate escalation of economic costs associated with disaster relief and humanitarian assistance. The primary victims of flood-related disasters will be the very poor, and in Lagos, they are also likely to be migrants from different ethnic groups. According to the authors, over the medium to long term, these increasing pressures along lines of class and ethnicity could result in social explosions that endanger public security.

The report warns that as long as problems with renovating or relocating vulnerable slums are allowed to fester and multiply without a satisfactory resolution, the probability of future conflict will steadily increase. Among the report’s recommendations are that projects for building physical infrastructure be accompanied by strengthened government institutions and ‘social infrastructure’, including arrangements that allow for the expression of citizen grievances and participation in the formulation of solutions.

This report is the sole piece of research to focus on climate risks and security dynamics in specific urban contexts, and as such is the most comprehensive examination of these dynamics. It goes into detail on regional climate change model predictions for Nigeria and Ghana, as well as ongoing adaptation initiatives that could mitigate future risks. It is also grounded in illustrative examples from the case studies. The potential points of friction identified in the report are applicable to other contexts, specifically with regard to the potential for tensions to arise over differing levels of vulnerability between richer and poorer residents, different ethnic communities, and established residents versus more recent migrants. Effective urban governance is identified as key to mitigating these risks.

>> USAID (2013): ‘Climate Change and Conflict in West African Cities: A policy brief on findings from Lagos, Nigeria and Accra, Ghana’, African and Latin American Resilience to Climate Change Project, USAID, Washington DC.


Additional Reading


International Institute for the Environment and Development (IIED), ‘Understanding the nature and scale of urban risk in low- and middle-income countries and its implications for humanitarian preparedness, planning and response’

This report is a synthesis review of the literature on disaster risk in cities. It addresses climate impacts alongside other contextual factors relevant to disaster risk including governance, poverty, demographics and migration. It notes that cities can often be safe places too, with high life expectancies and infrastructure and services that reduce risk.

It considers climate impacts within the context of how projections about future risk are generated, noting that the scale of climate risk in many cities in Africa, Asia and Latin America is largely unknown due to a lack of local analysis. Risks from flooding (both inland and coastal), water scarcity, increased air pollution and heat waves, as well as indirect effects such as and food and water shortages, are the climatic changes that will have the greatest impact on cities. The report says that risks arising from the direct and indirect impacts of climate change will lead to changes in population mobility and distribution.

This review provides an in-depth review of the literature and contains an extensive bibliography on this field of study. However, because it primarily focuses on disasters that trigger a humanitarian response, it does not focus on the impacts of climate change on longer-term, slower-onset disasters - for example those that affect food security and health. Regarding the links between climate change, human insecurity and risk of violent conflict, the report only states that these are not well understood, reflecting the existence of an academic debate in the literature on these linkages.

>> UK Government Department for International Development (DFID) (2012): ‘Understanding the nature and scale of urban risk in low- and middle-income countries and its implications for humanitarian preparedness, planning and response’, International Institute for the Environment and Development (IIED).


Brookings: ‘Urban disasters, conflict and violence: implications for humanitarian work’

While this piece is written for humanitarian actors, it illustrates the general linkages between one type of climate impact (disasters) and violence in urban settings. It begins by reviewing the upward trend in urbanization and the attendant increase in disaster risk, noting that two thirds of megacities are in coastal zones, and susceptible to flooding and sea level rise. The author also notes that 14% of the world’s population lives in slums, a figure which is likely to increase, and that most urban growth is expected in cities with populations currently under 5 million, which is often overlooked in discussions of where urban risks will be greatest.

The author focuses on interpersonal violence and violence carried out by gangs, specifically as it relates to humanitarian operations in urban post-disaster contexts. Interpersonal violence, including gender-based violence, has been demonstrated to increase after natural disasters, and the author notes that there are usually pre-existing patterns of violence within the society which are intensified in the aftermath of a disaster.

The author highlights some considerations for humanitarian actors involved in disaster response and the security dynamics relevant to their work, for example the extent to which their operation should address long-term pre-existing patterns of violence. The author also makes the point that natural disasters and conflicts have many similarities in their impacts, yet are addressed very differently by the humanitarian community.

Although this piece is briefer than the other two reports included here, and focuses more on the implications for humanitarian actors rather than conflict risk as a whole, it provides a helpful illustration of how disasters – whether climate-related or not – can impact important human security dynamics in urban contexts.

>> Elizabeth Ferris (2012): ‘Urban disasters, conflict and violence: implications for humanitarian work’. Remarks given on February 28, 2012 at a workshop for staff of World Vision on natural disasters in urban areas. Brookings, Washington DC.

Thematic Area No. 2

Migration, Climate Change and Conflict


Associations between climate change, migration and conflict are complex. Migration is inherently multi-causal, which precludes accurately identifying and quantifying solely ‘climate’ migrants. Most climate- or environment-related migration is likely to be internal, temporary and gradual. Climate impacts may also limit migration by reducing the capital required to move, and trapping some populations in vulnerable areas. Populations will relocate towards as well as away from vulnerable zones, e.g. floodplains in urban areas. Such population movements create climate-fragility risks mainly through their interaction with livelihood security and uncontrolled and badly managed urbanisation. 


Key Reading

United Kingdom Government Office for Science, ‘Migration and Global Environmental Change’

This report provides the most comprehensive and nuanced overview of environmental change and migration linkages, as well as policy frameworks for responding. 

Among its strongest arguments are that environmental change is equally likely to make migration less possible as more probable, creating populations trapped in vulnerable circumstances which present an important policy concern. Not relocating to another area is likely to increase humanitarian suffering, vulnerability and reduce livelihood security, and ultimately increase the likelihood of people being displaced or migrating in more vulnerable circumstances. 

The report also makes the case that planned and well-managed migration can be one important way to reduce risks and increase resilience. The authors argue that proactively facilitating migration will prevent a worse and more costly situation in the future; some degree of planned and pre-emptive migration of individuals or groups may ultimately allow households and populations to remain in situ for longer. The authors question the assumption that migration is the negative and unwanted consequence of a failure to mitigate or reduce environmental change.

The importance of urban areas is emphasized in the report; improving living conditions, resilience and the capacities of cities to prepare for and adapt to population influx are listed among the most effective policies to address tensions and conflict. It proposes considering the establishment of new urban centres, due to the severity of existing urban planning challenges in many destination cities.

The report provides a strategic policy framework for a highly uncertain future, usefully targeted at national-level governance. This recommends a more comprehensive perspective than attempting to restrict migration, one that focuses on reducing the impact of environmental change, planning for and responding to both migration and non-migration (immobility or being ‘trapped’) influenced by global environmental change, and recognising opportunities for migration as an adaptation strategy that can increase individuals’ long-term resilience to environmental change. 

>> United Kingdom Government Office for Science (2011): 'Foresight: Migration and Global Environmental Change - Future Challenges and Opportunities', Final Project Report, The Government Office for Science, London.


Additional Reading

No other exploration of the climate, migration and security nexus is as comprehensive as the key reading. These additional reports demonstrate in detail how these effects are manifesting in regions where climatic changes are already evident.

United Nations Environment Programme, ‘Livelihood Security: Climate Change, Migration and Conflict in the Sahel’

This report examines one of the regions most often cited as vulnerable to the dynamic of climate change, migration and conflict. Chapter 4: ’Understanding climate-related conflict and migration trends in the Sahel’ is the most relevant section, succinctly illustrating farmer-herder conflicts, competition over scarce resources and migration patterns, with detailed case studies grounded in field observation.

Climate change is framed through its impacts on the natural resource dependent livelihoods of herders, farmers and fishermen, as greater competition increases tensions and violent conflict between livelihood groups and ethnic groups. Urban areas are identified as pressure points, as receiving cities are frequently ill-equipped to absorb new populations and struggle with issues of infrastructure, along with larger challenges associated with integration and inequality.

>> United Nations Environment Programme (2011): ‘Livelihood Security: Climate Change, Migration and Conflict in the Sahel’, United Nations Environment Programme, Geneva.

Center for American Progress: ‘Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict in South Asia: Rising Tensions and Policy Options across the Subcontinent’

This report’s examination of tensions and vulnerabilities in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh provides insights into the underlying demographic, economic, disaster vulnerability and security trends shaping the region and the risks posed by long-term climate and migration trajectories. Focusing particularly on the Indian border state of Assam, it outlines how unauthorised Bangladeshi migrants – actual or perceived – have long been a source of interethnic and border security tensions, and how climate-related pressures on livelihoods, disasters and urbanisation could exacerbate these. Although oriented toward the US policy context, its policy recommendations are relevant more widely. 

>> Bhattacharyya, Arpita / Michael Werz (2012): ‘Climate change, Migration, and Conflict in South Asia: Rising Tensions and Policy Options across the Subcontinent’ Center for American Progress, Washington DC. 


Thematic Area No. 1

Food Security, Climate Change and Conflict


While there is a growing body of literature examining the links between 1) climate change and food, 2) food security and conflict and 3) climate change and security, there are few publications that combine analysis of all three dynamics. The following selection of studies provide the best combined analysis of the relationship between food security and conflict, assessing how it will be affected by projected climate impacts on food supply within the context of other changes to food market dynamics.   


Key Reading

CCAPS (Climate Change and African Political Stability), 'Climate change, global food markets and urban unrest'

The CCAPS research brief 'Climate change, global food markets and urban unrest' gives the best encapsulated overview of food, climate change and security dynamics. The report examines the ways that political institutions mediate the relationship between food prices and urban unrest; although much of the emphasis is on comparing the relative impact of democracies vs. autocracies, this focus elucidates many of the mechanisms important for other security risks, including fragility and conflict. The report closes with a section on climate change and food markets, outlining the impact of declining crop productivity and increasing risk of crop failure on food security and price volatility, which is particularly high when food production is concentrated in major exporting countries.    It also highlights a widening gap in agro-climatic fortunes between higher-latitude and mid-latitude countries, as crop yields are projected to decline in many tropical developing countries.

The Research Brief is complemented by the authors’ more in-depth academic article: 

>> Hendrix, Cullen / Stephen Haggard (2015): ‘Global food prices, regime type and urban unrest in the developing world’, Journal of Peace Research 52 (2), available online:   


Additional Reading

For more in-depth analysis of the food, climate and security nexus, these publications provide greater regional granularity as well as recommendations for responses to minimise risk, including humanitarian assistance and adaptation programming.


CCAPS, 'Food price spikes and social unrest in Africa'

This research brief looks at the circular relationship between food prices and unrest, defined here as riots, labour strikes, electoral violence, student demonstrations and communal conflict. Uniquely, it uses national consumer food price indices rather than international commodity prices to gauge economic impacts on consumers, and compares this with monthly data on incidents of civil unrest from 40 countries over a period of 21 years. It also integrates rainfall scarcity as an instrumental variable, arguing that the established correlation between rainfall deviations and conflict can be explained by impacts on agriculture, resulting in rising food prices. It recommends that agricultural adaptation to climate change focus more on ensuring consistent availability and access to food than on long-term productive capacities.

This briefing is also accompanied by an academic article: 

>> Smith, Todd Graham (2014): ‘Feeding unrest: Disentangling the causal relationship between food price shocks and sociopolitical conflict in urban Africa’, Journal of Peace Research 51 (6), available online:  


World Bank, 'Food insecurity and conflict: Applying the WDR framework' 

This report gives a thorough overview of food insecurity and conflict linkages. It focuses on the ways that national governments, intergovernmental organizations and NGOs can intervene to minimize risks of political violence; for example by protecting both consumers and producers from food price shocks and income instability. It identifies climate change as one of several drivers that will contribute to increasingly volatile food markets, noting climate impacts on crop yields and international commodities markets, as well as the effect of biofuels on food prices. 

>> Brinkman, Henk-Jan / Cullen S. Hendix (2010): Food Insecurity and Conflict: Applying the WDR Framework, World Development Report 2011 Background Paper, World Bank.  


Wilson Center Environmental Change and Security Program, ‘Harvesting Peace: Food Insecurity, Conflict and Cooperation’

This study examines the complex linkages between conflict and food security, focusing on how humanitarian and development organizations, should integrate this analysis to mitigate food insecurity and prevent conflict, with specific reference to USAID. It mentions climate change only in passing, but provides substantive recommendations for addressing food and conflict jointly, which has relevance for climate adaptation and response to climate-driven disasters, although this is not the focus of the report. It closes with an annex exploring ways of integrating data related to food insecurity into current concepts and theories of conflict, in order to better understand what levels or aspects of food insecurity are most likely to directly contribute to or cause conflict, and in what circumstances.

>> Simmons, Emmy (2013): Harvesting Peace: Food insecurity, conflict and cooperation, Environmental Change and Security Program Report 14 (3), Washington DC: Woodrow Wilson Center.